METALS-Copper tumbles to 40-month low on fears for economy, demand

Eric Onstad

* Lead price hits lowest since June 2016

* Metals fare better than other markets on China hopes (Add analyst comment, update prices, changes dateline from SINGAPORE)

LONDON, March 16 (Reuters) - Copper prices slid on Monday to the lowest since November 2016 on worries that lockdowns in Europe and the United States to tackle the coronavirus would further erode metals demand.

But the falls in industrial metals of around 1-3% were more measured than in equity and oil markets, which saw plunges of 8% or more.

That's mainly because around half of metals demand comes from China, where new virus cases have fallen sharply and the government is expected to roll out major stimulus spending.

"Despite the very, very negative numbers for China over the weekend in terms of industrial production and fixed asset investment, I would still say that the general view is that China should recover from here," said analyst Carsten Menke at Julius Baer in Zurich.

Industrial output in China, the world's biggest copper user, contracted at the sharpest pace in 30 years in the first two months of the year, data showed on Monday.

A China-based metals analyst said: "Diving data in February is what everybody has anticipated, but my worry is March. People think things are going back to normal after utilisation rates recover, but they ignore the permanent loss of the supply chain."

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) had slumped 3.4% to $5,274 a tonne by 1100 GMT, the weakest since November 2016. Copper, often used as a gauge of global economic health, has shed 17% since touching an eight-month high of $6,343 in mid-January.

The most traded copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) closed down 1.5% to 42,320 yuan ($6,043) a tonne.

The Federal Reserve slashed U.S. interest rates to near zero on Sunday and pledged to expand its balance sheet by at least $700 billion in the coming weeks, but this did little to calm investor panic over the deepening economic hit from the virus.

"Of course, there is the impact on metals markets based on what's happening outside of China at the moment, not to speak of the overall spread of risk aversion. The other half of global (metals) demand is outside of China," Menke said.

The biggest risk was that China would suffer a second wave of infection after restrictions were lifted, he added.

"That's something we don't know and that's the big, big wild card."

Worries of an aluminium surplus were fuelled by data showing China's aluminium production rose by 2.4% to 5.85 million tonnes in January-February from a year earlier.

LME aluminium dropped 1% to $1,664 a tonne.

Among other prices, LME zinc fell 1.3% to $1,958.50 a tonne, nickel lost 3.3% to $11,920, lead shed 1.6% to $1,715.50, the lowest since June 2016, and tin eased by 2.2% to $15,595.

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($1 = 7.0034 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in Singapore; Ediitng by Mark Potter)