NEW YORK/LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - Copper prices were little changed in late business on Tuesday as they continued to consolidate after last week's sharp gains and remained well supported by improved demand prospects reflected in falling inventories.
Copper for May delivery HGK0 on the New York Mercantile Exchange's COMEX division rose 0.10 cent to close at $3.4115 per lb, ranging from $3.355 to $3.425.
Benchmark copper for three-month delivery CMCU3 on the London Metal Exchange (LME) closed at $7,510 a tonne in official rings from $7,470 on Monday.
Copper, widely used in power and construction materials, rallied some 4 percent last week on concerns that a devastating earthquake would disrupt the flow of the metal from Chile, the world's leading copper miner.
Since then, prices have been caught in a tight range of $3.32 to $3.47, said David Meger, vice president and director of metals trading with Vision Financial Markets in Chicago.
"We're consolidating as the market awaits further impetus," he said, noting that firm support emanated from the growing economic recovery as reflected in stable to rising equities, declining copper warehouse stocks and prospects of increased demand from
The recent withdrawals in LME warehouses have hinted demand could be recovering outside of China, with inventories last falling 2,700 tonnes to 538,875 tonnes.
"We are still in the seasonally strong period for demand so I'd expect that to continue to underpin some reasonably modest price increases from here," said Robin Bhar, an analyst at Credit Agricole.
Stocks are at their lowest levels since late January, falling from February's peak which was the highest since October 2003.
A recent trend of rising canceled warrants on copper stocks also pointed to a pickup in demand. Metal tagged for delivery from LME warehouses stood at 26,725 tonnes on Monday, up from 3,625 tonnes on Feb. 8.
Focus is now shifting to trade data due on Wednesday from China, the world's biggest metals consumer.
Among other metals, aluminum CMAL3 closed at $2,258 versus $2,231. LME stocks of the metal, used in transport and packaging, fell 5,925 tonnes to 4.5 million tonnes, their lowest level since July.
Earlier this year aluminum stocks hit a record above 4.6 million tonnes. A large portion of stocks are tied up in finance deals, to release cash for producers and to earn banks higher
returns than they would get in money markets.
Aluminum canceled warrants stood at 294,075 tonnes on Monday against 256,550 tonnes on Feb. 8. Zinc CMZN3 was at $2,375 a tonne from $2,370, while battery material lead CMPB3 was last quoted at $2,240/2,245 from $2,257.50. Tin CMSN3 was at $17,550 from $17,300 a tonne and steel making ingredient nickel CMNI3 was at $22,250 from $22,300.
Stocks of nickel, zinc, lead and tin also fell on Monday. A director at Norilsk Nickel (GMKN.MM), the world's top nickel producer, said nickel prices must rise by at least 5 percent for a sustained period to prompt miners to restart more capacity idled by the global economic slowdown.