Copper Traders Extend Bearish Streak as Prices Drop

By Nicholas Larkin – May 24, 2012

Copper traders are bearish for a second week after mounting concern that slowing growth in China and Europe would curb demand drove prices to a four-month low.

Nine of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg expect the metal to drop next week and three were neutral, the first consecutive negative outlook since April 6. Hedge funds and other money managers cut their wagers on higher prices by 69 percent in the week ended May 15, the most in a month, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show.

Raw materials slid to a five-month low this week and more than $4.3 trillion was erased from the value of global equities this month on concern that Greece will exit the euro as the region’s debt crisis deepens. Manufacturing in the 17-nation euro area slumped to the weakest in almost three years this month and may shrink for a seventh month in China, which accounts for about 40 percent of global copper consumption.

“Copper tends to be a reasonably good signal of what’s going on in the real world,” said Guy Wolf, a strategist at Marex Spectron Group in London. “Europe has become a more immediate concern. Most people in the copper market were already concerned about the outlook in China. We’re looking for prices to find a floor at lower levels in the next couple of months.”

Copper fell 0.2 percent to $7,584.50 a metric ton this year on the London Metal Exchange and reached $7,503 on May 23, the lowest since Jan. 10. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI gauge of 24 commodities slid 4.3 percent this year and the MSCI All-Country World Index (MXWD) of equities rose 0.2 percent. Treasuries returned 1.2 percent, a Bank of America Corp. index shows.

Shortage Narrowing

The metal’s third consecutive annual shortage is narrowing, with demand expected to outpace supply by 158,000 tons this year, compared with 213,000 tons in 2011, according to Barclays Plc. Copper will be in a surplus next year and in 2014, Tiberius Asset Management AG said in a report e-mailed May 18.

While stockpiles monitored by the LME dropped 40 percent this year, some of the metal may be going into bonded warehouses in China that are exempt from a value-added tax and import duties. Inventories in those warehouses are about 600,000 tons, Standard Chartered Plc said in a report April 26. The total including refined and semi-finished metal probably climbed to a record of about 1 million tons, the bank’s analysts said.

China’s refined copper imports slid 21 percent in April from a month earlier, customs data show. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. still expects Chinese demand to drive prices to $9,000 in three months. The bank’s copper consumption indicator, tracking consumer appliance and auto demand in the nation, was at the second-highest level ever last month, the bank’s analysts said in a May 23 report. The gauge will climb about 3 percent this year and about 8 percent next year, they forecast.

Global Expansion

The global economy will expand 3.5 percent this year and 4.1 percent next year, the International Monetary Fund estimates. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said over the weekend that the nation will focus more on spurring growth. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, will consider all ideas on bolstering the euro area, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said May 21.

Potential production losses may help sustain a supply shortage. BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Group (RIO), the world’s biggest and third-biggest mining companies by sales, said this month they’ll ration capital spending because of costs. Codelco, the largest copper producer, produced 10 percent less metal in the first quarter as ore-grades decreased.

Manufacturing Falls

A gauge of euro-area manufacturing decreased to 45 in May from 45.9 in April, the lowest in 35 months, London-based Markit Economics said yesterday. A 48.7 preliminary reading for a purchasing managers’ index in China released by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit yesterday compares with 49.3 for April. If confirmed on June 1, it would mark the longest run of below-50 readings since the global recession.

Thirteen of 26 traders and analysts surveyed by Bloomberg said gold would advance next week and three were neutral. Futures on the Comex exchange in New York rose 0.8 percent to $1,554.10 an ounce since the start of January after climbing the previous 11 years.

Six of 11 people surveyed expect raw-sugar prices to decline next week and two were neutral. The commodity slipped 16 percent to 19.58 cents a pound on ICE Futures U.S. in New York this year.

Thirteen of 23 people surveyed anticipate higher corn prices next week, while 11 of 25 said soybeans will advance and six predicted little change. Corn dropped 10 percent to $5.81 a bushel this year as soybeans advanced 14 percent to $13.72 a bushel in Chicago trading.

“All the problems in Europe are starting to have an effect on the real economy,” said Dan Smith, a commodities analyst at Standard Chartered in London. “Countries like China will start to re-accelerate as the government pumps more money into the system. We’re quite optimistic things will turn up in the second half of the year.”

Gold survey results: Bullish: 13 Bearish: 10 Hold: 3
Copper survey results: Bullish: 6 Bearish: 9 Hold: 3
Corn survey results: Bullish: 13 Bearish: 6 Hold: 4
Soybean survey results: Bullish: 11 Bearish: 8 Hold: 6
Raw sugar survey results: Bullish: 3 Bearish: 6 Hold: 2
White sugar survey results: Bullish: 3 Bearish: 5 Hold: 3
White sugar premium results: Widen: 2 Narrow: 4 Neutral: 5

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