Apr 16, 2012 NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Copper futures end near unchanged as traders weighed a decline in U.S. home builders' confidence against an uptick in retail and food service sales.
The most actively traded contract, for May delivery, settled 0.10 cent higher at $3.6280 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Copper prices oscillated around the unchanged level throughout the trading day as traders reacted to different economic data. Copper is widely considered an economic barometer because of its widespread applications in electrical wiring, heat conductivity and water tubing.
Retail and food service sales rose 0.8% from February to a seasonally adjusted $411.07 billion as Americans spent more on home improvement, gasoline, cars and electronics in March.
The National Association of Home Builders said its housing market index was 25 in April, from 28 in March. This was the first decline in seven months and the reading missed expectations of 28. A bearish outlook for the sector is considered a sign of weaker future demand for the industrial metal.
"Although builders in many markets are noting increased interest among potential buyers, consumers are still very hesitant to go forward with a purchase," said Barry Rutenberg, the trade group's chairman and a builder from Gainesville, Fla. "Our members are realigning their expectations somewhat until they see more actual signed sales contracts."
Elsewhere, Citi Investment Research adjusted its copper price outlook for the next three years. The bank raised its average copper price forecast for 2012 to $3.85 a pound, from $3.55 a pound previously. But Citi now expects copper prices to average at $3.80 instead of $3.87 in 2013, and to slide to $3.61 in 2014, versus previous forecasts of $3.72 a pound.
"The prospect of a return to the high levels of Chinese auto production growth seen in 2009 and 2010 looks remote to us," Citi said. Hopes of a boost in construction activity are overplayed, the bank added, as "it is now reported that new unsold property is being reclassified as economic housing in order to assist in meeting the central government's volume targets."
Moreover, "the lack of any rebound in [U.S.] construction activity means copper demand will remain well below precrisis levels," Citi said.
Copper settlements (ranges include electronic and pit trading):
Apr $3.6240; up 0.10 cents; Range $3.5885-$3.6240
May $3.6280; up 0.10 cents; Range $3.5690-$3.6345