Copper rose on Tuesday on expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve could signal further stimulus to prop up the flagging economy following weak economic data, but gains were capped by European debt crisis concerns and a cloudy outlook for metals demand.
Investors are awaiting Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Congressional testimony for an indication on whether the central bank will launch further easing measures to shore up the economy.
Hopes for more stimulus by the Fed were further stirred by a forecast downgrade of global economic growth by the International Monetary Fund and a third consecutive monthly fall in U.S. retail sales in June.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose to $7,693.50 a tonne at 05:37 a.m. EDT (0937 GMT), up from a close of $7,590 a tonne on Monday.
We do expect that the U.S. will launch QE3. The more we see disappointing data from the U.S. economy, the more the financial community will expect further stimulus, said Gianclaudio Torlizzi, partner at T-Commodity.
The market is reluctant to take big positions ahead of Ben Bernanke's speech as there is a risk for disappointment if he doesn't announce anything new. So the market is still a bit cautious.
The Fed's decision last month to buy an additional $267 billion in long-term bonds with proceeds from short-term debt, a measure known as Operation Twist, has already put the U.S. central bank on a policy easing footing.
Although further stimulus measures could help boost copper prices in the short-term, worries remain about the outlook for demand given Europe's lingering debt crisis and weak demand from China which accounts for as much as 40 percent of copper demand.
Most downstream copper industries in China are still experiencing weak demand for their products, said one major Chinese producer of copper tubes and wires.
Since the end of April, our orders have fallen around 10 to 15 percent compared to the same period last year. We will definitely be looking out for more aggressive spending programmes by the government. Hopefully these will boost our sales, said an executive from the producer.
China's refined copper output in June rose 11.6 percent on the year and 7 percent on the month to 518,000 tonnes, the country's Statistics Bureau said.
Market players said this was due to smelters betting on improved demand in the second half of the year and Chinese copper producers delivering into LME warehouses in Asia.
Big producers like Jiangxi Copper have been delivering into LME warehouses in Asia for the past two months to take advantage of higher LME prices. We've heard the government has waived export duties on these deliveries, said one Shanghai-based trader.
In other metals traded, battery material lead was at $1,901 from Monday's close of $1,899, while zinc, used in galvanizing, was at $1,884.75 from $1,900 and aluminium rose to $1,919.75 from $1,918.
Soldering metal tin rose to $18,875 from $18,750 while stainless-steel ingredient nickel was at $16,179 from $16,250.
Metal Prices at 0942 GMT Comex copper in cents/lb, LME prices in $/T and SHFE prices in yuan/T
Metal Last Change Pct Move End 2011 Ytd Pct
COMEX Cu 349.80 1.40 +0.40 344.75 1.46
LME Alum 1918.75 0.75 +0.04 2020.00 -5.01
LME Cu 7689.00 99.00 +1.30 7600.00 1.17
LME Lead 1900.25 1.25 +0.07 2034.00 -6.58
LME Nickel 16177.00 -73.00 -0.45 18650.00 -13.26
LME Tin 18875.00 125.00 +0.67 19200.00 -1.69
LME Zinc 1884.50 -15.50 -0.82 1845.00 2.14
SHFE Alu 15580.00 -25.00 -0.16 15845.00 -1.67
SHFE Cu* 55920.00 -250.00 -0.45 55360.00 1.01
SHFE Zin 14800.00 0.00 +0.00 14795.00 0.03 ** Benchmark month for COMEX copper