NEW YORK, March 12 (Reuters) - Copper was mostly flat on Friday, trading in tight ranges with dollar declines supporting prices but with gains limited by worries China might tighten monetary policy and slow metals demand.
Benchmark copper CMCU3 on the London Metal Exchange was last quoted at $7,440/7,445 a tonne, barely down from $7,464 at the close on Thursday. The metal used in power and construction ended mid-range between $7,405 and $7,510 a tonne.
New York copper prices finished with small gains, also trading within a slim, sideways trading band. Most active copper for May delivery HGK0 finished just 0.3 cent higher at
$3.38 per lb on the New York Mercantile Exchange's COMEX division.
"Copper garnered a little strength from the weakness in the dollar and Chilean earthquake situation, keeping many players unwilling to sell into this market," said David Meger, director of metals trading at Vision Financial Markets in Chicago.
Copper has traded mostly sideways at a higher plateau reached in early March after Chilean earthquake news caused fears of slower copper mine supplies in the world's biggest producing country.
On Thursday, those fears were reignited when strong aftershocks of 6.9 magnitude shook central Chile. Dollar declines helped keep a bid under dollar-denominated copper prices as a weak dollar cheapened base metals for non-U.S. investors, traders said.
The dollar dropped to a one-month low against the euro as investors pared large bearish bets on European currencies following record January euro zone industrial output.
"Overall, the market seems to be well supported, but generally on dips. Not a lot of driving the momentum higher, but certainly interest in copper on dips," said Meger.
Also underpinning prices was a government report showing U.S. retail sales rose unexpectedly in February despite a drop in vehicle purchases and inclement weather that was thought would curtail shopping. The increase on sales bolstered hopes of sustainable U.S. economic recovery.
But copper has struggled to make headway in recent sessions as investors worried red-hot growth and rising inflation could encourage China to tighten monetary policy, which could in turn hit copper imports.
Chinese consumption doubts and fears of tighter credit were reinforced by consumer inflation data, that jumped to a 16-month high in February.
"The economic prospects are a little bit shaky, some are concerned growth in China as we saw it over the last month will not be sustainable," said Eugen Weinberg, an analyst at Commerzbank. "Some expect further tightening in China soon, possibly in a question of weeks."
But analysts say that even if China hikes rates, its monetary policy should remain accommodative enough to support robust consumption.
Supporting copper were steep declines in inventories. Stocks of copper in LME warehouses have fallen nearly 20,000 tonnes since March 1 to 532,575 tonnes. LME stocks of copper, zinc, lead, tin, nickel and aluminium all fell on Thursday.
Zinc CMZN3 was at $2,335 in official rings from $2,337 on Thursday and battery material lead CMPB3 was at $2,265 a tonne from $2,251. Tin CMSN3 at $17,550 from $17,350 and stainless steel ingredient nickel CMNI3 was at $21,750 from $21,295. Aluminium CMAL3 traded at $2,260.50 a tonne from $2,235.