LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Copper prices slipped on Monday, dragged lower by a slight rise in the dollar against a basket of currencies, but further falls were kept in check by better economic growth prospects in top consumer China.
Three-month copper futures on the London Metal Exchange ended at $8,000 a tonne, down 0.5 percent from Friday's close of $8,045, when the price fell as much as 1 percent.
Metals were pressured as the dollar inched higher against a basket of currencies. A strong dollar makes commodities pried in the U.S. unit more expensive for holders of other currencies.
Keeping sentiment positive, however, were expectations of healthy demand from top copper consumer China after data showed stronger-than-expected exports and imports in December.
China accounts for as much as 40 percent of global copper demand.
"The fact that some macro data from China has been more constructive is a positive for the copper demand outlook. That's key for the first few months but as the year unfolds people are anticipating an increase in copper supply," said Macquarie analyst Duncan Hobbs.
Copper hit a 2-1/2-month high near $8,300 early in January as risk assets rose after the United States averted a fiscal crisis of steep tax increases and spending cuts.
Prices have since retreated on expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve may rein in easing measures sooner than expected, and ahead of more U.S. debt ceiling negotiations that are set to take place in coming months.
Markets are likely to have their eye on a speech later in the day by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Markets will likely not do much today as the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke... may address the issue stirred up by the most recent Fed minutes whereby a growing number of governors were pushing for a retrenchment in the Fed's balance sheet," said Edward Meir, analyst at INTL FCStone.
"We should remain relatively range-bound until then."
Chinese Stockpiles Weigh
Weighing on copper were weak Chinese imports, with data last week showing they fell 6.6 percent in December from the previous month, indicating the country is well stocked.
Analysts estimate copper stocks in bonded warehouses in China are anywhere between half a million to over a million tonnes. Copper stocks on the Shanghai Futures exchange are near their highest since late April 2012.
"Given record high levels of inventory at bonded warehouses, we believe it could take some time for China to destock copper as our inventory model reveals that destocking activity has been quite modest," Deutsche Bank said in a note.
China's gross domestic product data, due out on Friday, will be key as investors seek confirmation of whether the world's No. 2 economy snapped seven quarters of slower growth in the fourth quarter.
A Reuters poll expects China's economic growth to have quickened to 7.8 percent in the fourth quarter from 7.4 percent in July-September.
"Chinese inflation numbers (have) surprised to the upside. This is spurring concerns that authorities might adopt more restrictive economic policies. In this context, the focus this week will be on Chinese industrial production and GDP growth. Further evidence that Chinese growth has bottomed should help to lift sentiment again," said Credit Suisse in a note.
Soldering metal tin ended at $24,750 a tonne from a last bid of $24,900 on Friday, while aluminium traded at $2,054 from $2,097.50. Zinc, used in galvanizing, was untraded at the close but bid at $1,996 from Friday's $2,015.
Battery material lead ended at $2,295 a tonne from $2,305, while stainless-steel ingredient nickel ended at $17,255 from Friday's close of $17,550.
Metal Prices at 1711 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 363.00 -1.65 -0.45 365.25 -0.62
LME Alum 2054.00 -43.50 -2.07 2073.00 -0.92
LME Cu 8002.25 -42.75 -0.53 7931.00 0.90
LME Lead 2295.00 -10.00 -0.43 2330.00 -1.50
LME Nickel 17300.00 -250.00 -1.42 17060.00 1.41
LME Tin 24756.00 101.00 +0.41 23400.00 5.79
LME Zinc 1998.00 -17.00 -0.84 2080.00 -3.94
SHFE Alu 15235.00 -15.00 -0.10 15435.00 -1.30
SHFE Cu* 58320.00 70.00 +0.12 57690.00 1.09
SHFE Zin 15370.00 5.00 +0.03 15625.00 -1.63