LONDON, Feb. 24 -- Copper fell the most in almost three weeks after a report showed that confidence among U.S. consumers slid to the lowest level since April, a sign that the recovery in the world's largest economy may be slow.
The Conference Board's gauge of consumer sentiment declined to 46 in February, the business-backed group said. That's beneath the lowest forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of 68 economists. Copper dropped 8.8 percent last month on concern that a slowing economic rebound will curb demand for the metal used in pipes and wires.
"This bad consumer-confidence report is a great excuse for people to take their money off the table and wait to see how things shake out," said Michael K. Smith, the president of T&K Futures & Options in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "It's definitely causing concern."
Copper futures for May delivery sank 9.4 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $3.2345 a pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Comex unit. That marks the biggest decline for a most-active contract since Feb. 4.
Rio Tinto Group, the world's third-largest mining company, said the removal of government stimulus packages and slowing consumer spending may dent demand for metals in the second half of the year.
"There are plenty of negative forces out there," Vivek Tulpule, the chief economist for London-based Rio, said in an interview.
Copper prices also dropped as the dollar gained, reducing demand for commodities as alternative assets. The U.S. Dollar Index, a six-currency measure of the greenback's strength, rose as much as 0.6 percent.
On the London Metal Exchange, copper for three-month delivery fell 2.7 percent to $7,132 a metric ton ($3.24 a pound). Aluminum, nickel, tin, lead and zinc prices also declined.