Mar 05, 2012 NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Copper futures slumped to their lowest levels in more than a week on Monday on worries that China's newly lowered growth target would spell less demand for the industrial metal.
The most actively traded copper contract, for May delivery, fell 4.35 cents, or 1.1%, to settle at $3.8595 on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement price in a week.
China, which accounts for almost 40% of world copper consumption, could be set for a period of slower economic expansion, if the country's largely symbolic growth target is any indication. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a speech on Monday that the government aims to deliver economic growth of 7.5% this year, a step back from the 8% rate Beijing had targeted for the previous eight years.
Demand for copper tends to closely track Chinese economic activity because of the metal's widespread uses in electricity infrastructure and large-scale construction projects, two areas of China's economy that have boomed during the last decade.
"China's economy is key for the copper market," said Ralph Preston, a market analyst with Heritage West Financial.
Given that China's gross domestic product grew at a rate of 8.9% during the fourth quarter, "the Chinese economy may well continue to slow noticeably," said Leon Westgate, an analyst with Standard Bank, in a note. "Against that economic backdrop, Chinese consumers may also look to further delay any purchasing decisions."
Copper prices were also under pressure to start the week as U.S. and euro-zone economic data disappointed.
In the U.S., factory orders in January saw their biggest fall in more than a year. Excluding orders for defense goods and aircraft, capital goods buying slumped by 3.9%.
Analysts with Sucden Financial said in a note that the report may signal that the U.S. manufacturing sector, a "bright star" in recent months, is slipping.
In Europe, the composite purchasing managers' index for the 17-nation euro bloc showed continued weakness in February, coming in below both a previous estimate and economists' expectations.
Analysts with Goldman Sachs increased a copper price forecast on Monday, citing risks to mine supply and an expected seasonal boost to demand. The investment bank raised its 3-month copper price forecast to $3.81 a pound, up 5% from its previous view of $3.62 a pound. Goldman's longer-term forecasts were unchanged.
But the investment bank cautioned that a major rally "does not appear imminent," after the metal's strong gains to start the year. Through Friday, benchmark Comex futures were up 13% in 2012.
Copper settlements (ranges include electronic and pit trading):
Mar $3.8525; down 4.30 cents; Range $3.8290-$3.9140
May $3.8595; down 4.35 cents; Range $3.8355-$3.9325