Copper Falls for Third Time in Four Days on China Outlook

Copper futures declined for the third time in four days on signs that demand may ebb this year in China, the world’s biggest consumer of industrial metals.

China is targeting a gain in exports of about 7.5 percent in 2014, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said, below last year’s increase of 7.9 percent. Passenger-vehicle sales in the country rose less than analysts estimated last month, adding to signs that the economy is slowing.

“Slower exports from China could be a sign of weaker global demand,” Phil Streible, a senior commodity broker at R.J. O’Brien & Associates in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. “Slower shipments would hurt copper and other raw materials.”

Copper futures for March delivery declined 0.2 percent to settle at $3.25 a pound at 1:21 p.m. on the Comex in New York. The metal has dropped 4.3 percent this year.

Yesterday, futures rose 1.3 percent, the most in a month, after Chinese trade figures exceeded estimates and data showed imports of unwrought copper and copper products into the nation surged to a record in January.

Today’s decline in prices “suggests that the spike in January metal imports is being perceived more as a ‘financing play’ as opposed to a ‘consumption play’,” Edward Meir, an analyst at INTL FCStone Inc. in New York, said in a report. Yesterday’s trade data “has done little, if anything, to dispel lingering concern about China’s short-term macro outlook.”

On the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months fell 0.6 percent to $7,110 a metric ton ($3.23 a pound).

Aluminum, zinc and tin rose in London, while nickel and lead slid.

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