Mar 29, 2012 NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Copper futures settled near unchanged Thursday as upbeat U.S. weekly jobless numbers offset pressure from data showing slightly slower-than-expected economic growth.
The most-actively traded contract, for May delivery, settled up 0.40 cents, or 0.1%, at $3.7965 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"We're just on that pivot point at around $3.80," said Ralph Preston, analyst at Heritage West Financial.
Copper prices have been stuck in a rut between $3.70 and $3.95 for much of this year. By contrast, the market was prey to volatile swings for much of last year with prices hitting a record high of $4.6375 in February only to sink to a low of $3.0775 by October.
"The longer we see market channel or sideways trading, the stronger the trend will be once you break it," Preston said.
He added that a breakout outside the recent range was unlikely in the near term. "We're just at the lower end of the range and we're not going to see an extension to $3.40 anytime soon," Preston said.
Earlier in the day, copper caught a boost from data showing first-time claims for unemployment benefits in the U.S. fell 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 359,000 in the week ended March 24. The four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, decreased by 3,500 to 365,000.
Copper prices are sensitive to economic indicators such as employment data because demand for the industrial metal, used in everything from consumer electronic products to household plumbing, tends to perk up when the economy does well.
However, the upbeat tone was partially offset by a report showing the U.S. economy grew at a slower-than-expected 3% pace in the final quarter of 2011. Forecasts had called for a faster pace of 3.2%.
"While we didn't really beat expectations, we're still seeing growth in the economy," said Adam Klopfenstein, a market strategist with Archer Financial Services.
Copper settlements (ranges include electronic and pit trading):
Mar $3.7940; up 0.50 cents; Range $3.7645-$3.8045
May $3.7965; up 0.40 cents; Range $3.7620-$3.8180