LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Copper rose on Thursday due to a weak dollar and strong export figures from the metal's top consumer China, which boosted prospects for a recovery in demand.
But data showing lower imports of copper to China in December, compared with the previous month, and an uncertain outlook for trade prevented further gains.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange ended at $8,110 a tonne, up from a close of $8,080 on Wednesday.
Trade data released on Thursday showed the value of China's exports grew 14.1 percent last month compared with a year earlier, racing past the forecasts of analysts polled by Reuters, who had expected annual growth of 4 percent.
Analysts, however, said the pick-up in exports growth from November's 2.9 percent rise was probably accentuated by lower comparison figures a year ago and exporters clearing year-end orders, factors that do not suggest a sustainable turnaround. They said concerns about subdued global growth mean that China's export spike may not signal an enduring recovery.
Also helping metals prices was a drop in the U.S. dollar against a basket of currencies, with the euro climbing to a one-week high against the dollar. A weak dollar makes commodities priced in the U.S. unit cheaper for holders of other currencies.
"Today it's a risk-on day, therefore that's leading to some upside for all the metals," said Societe Generale analyst Robin Bhar.
"But whether they can attack recent highs remains to be seen. This week is the first full week of trading in 2013 and volumes are not spectacular. There is still caution around, and I think some of the rallies may be not sustainable."
Copper imports into China, the world's top consumer of the metal, fell 6.6 percent in December on the month due to weak demand from plants, which reduced purchases of metal at the end of the year because of low cash flows.
Copper hit a 2-1/2 month high of $8,256.50 a tonne on Jan. 3, but has since struggled to breach that level.
"On a technical basis the (base metals) complex has pulled back to neutral readings on relative strength indicators leaving good potential for a move in either direction," RBC said in a note.
"With the global economy showing good signs of hope at least for 2013 we favour the move will be higher."
Goldman Bearish on Aluminium
In other metals, aluminium ended at $2,114 from $2,080 at the close on Wednesday.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs expects aluminium to continue underperforming in 2013, despite tightness in the Indonesian bauxite market.
The Wall Street bank said its bearish view on aluminium was based on expectations that supply growth, driven by low-cost capacity expansions in northern and western China, would outpace demand growth in 2013.
The bank said Indonesia's implementation of a strict embargo last May had led to the tightening of the bauxite market. However, Indonesian bauxite exports to China increased strongly in late 2012 and almost reached 2011 export levels.
Bauxite is the primary raw material used to produce alumina and aluminium and Indonesia is one of the largest global suppliers of bauxite.
Meanwhile, refined tin shipments from Indonesia, the world's top exporter, rose 9.4 percent in December to 8,689.2 tonnes from 7,945.68 tonnes in the November, a trade ministry official said on Thursday.
Three-month tin closed at $24,655 a tonne from $24,775 on Wednesday. Three-month zinc ended at $2,038 from $2,017, and nickel closed at $17,400 from $17,520. Lead was untraded at the close, last bid at $2,333 from $2,315.
Metal Prices at 1704 GMT
Comex copper in cents/lb, LME prices in $/T and SHFE prices in yuan/T
Metal Last Change Pct Move End 2012 Ytd Pct
COMEX Cu 368.85 2.55 +0.70 365.25 0.99
LME Alum 2113.25 33.25 +1.60 2073.00 1.94
LME Cu 8110.75 30.75 +0.38 7931.00 2.27
LME Lead 2337.00 22.00 +0.95 2330.00 0.30
LME Nickel 17460.00 -60.00 -0.34 17060.00 2.34
LME Tin 24555.00 -95.00 -0.39 23400.00 4.94
LME Zinc 2039.50 22.50 +1.12 2080.00 -1.95
SHFE Alu 15270.00 25.00 +0.16 15435.00 -1.07
SHFE Cu* 58540.00 380.00 +0.65 57690.00 1.47
SHFE Zin 15415.00 90.00 +0.59 15625.00 -1.34