Copper prices eased overnight as worries over global economic growth lingered, with aluminium also weakening after a major producer warned about softer demand.
Zinc, however, bucked the trend as an environmental crackdown in China created shortages of refined metal.
A steady drum beat of weak economic data in recent weeks, including in top metals consumer China, has stoked fears of a global recession.
Industrial output in Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, registered an unexpected fourth consecutive monthly decline in December, data showed on Thursday, while the Bank of England said Britain faces its weakest economic growth in a decade.
Also dampening sentiment was news that US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping are unlikely to meet before their countries’ March 1 deadline to reach a trade deal.
‘The macro concerns are still very much there,’ said BMO Capital Markets analyst Kash Kamal.
‘The surprise has come from emerging markets countries apart from China. While Europe is weak, the hopes were for EM ex-China to remain relatively robust, but that’s weakened as well.’
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange shed 0.5 per cent to $US6,246 a tonne in closing open outcry trading, easing from a two-month high of $US6,289.50 earlier in the session.
Trading remained subdued, with markets in China closed for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.
Norwegian aluminium producer Norsk Hydro warned that an uncertain economic outlook could sap demand in the coming year.
Benchmark LME aluminium dropped 0.7 per cent to finish at $US1,894 a tonne.
LME zinc was the top exchange’s top performer, climbing 1 per cent to $US2,731 a tonne after hitting a seven-month high on Tuesday.
LME on-warrant inventories – those not earmarked for delivery – have tumbled to their lowest since October 2007.
‘Refined metal stocks are dwindling and Beijing is cracking down on Chinese smelters, which is creating something of a bottleneck for concentrates flowing through to refined metal,’ Kamal said.
LME nickel added 0.5 per cent to close at $US12,985 a tonne after touching $US13,350 on Wednesday, its highest since August 31, partly on worries about top producer Vale after last month’s collapse of a tailings dam controlled by the Brazilian mining company.
‘This price action seems unjustified in our opinion, with the majority of Vale’s nickel supply outside of Brazil and none of their six nickel mines utilising the upstream tailings method,’ Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah said in a note.
‘We remain bullish on nickel through 2019 … but believe a move lower is likely in the short term.’
Weighing on the complex was a firmer dollar index , making US dollar-denominated metals more expensive for holders of other currencies.
Lead fell 0.5 per cent to end at $US2,080 a tonne while tin slipped 0.2 per cent to $US20,950.