Copper languished near four-year lows overnight as the spread of the coronavirus intensified fears about global economic growth and demand for industrial metals.
Economic activity in top consumer China and other major economies has been shredded by government measures to contain the virus, which has so far claimed more than 9,000 lives, sparking recession fears around the world.
“The metals markets are still in panic mode which is ongoing and even a rebound from current levels in unlikely to last,” said Commerzbank head of commodities research Eugen Weinberg.
Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange snapped a three-session losing streak to close 2 per cent up at $US4,835 a tonne after bargain-hunting by some players, one trader said.
Earlier, the price fell as low as $US4,371 a tonne, its lowest since January 2016, and has shed about 12 per cent so far this week.
Copper, which is used by investors as a bellwether for global economic health, is still within striking distance of its lowest since the global recession in 2009.
Traders say falling production costs thanks to tumbling energy prices have lowered the floor for metal prices. A stronger US dollar, which makes commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies, was also subduing demand.
Meanwhile, industrial metals markets are expecting further deliveries into exchange-monitored warehouses as end-users in Europe and the United States close down operations due to the virus, indicating supply is swamping demand.
Inventories of copper in warehouses approved by the LME have jumped about 30 per cent over the last week to 231,025 tonnes, mostly in South Korea and Taiwan.
In China, the world’s top copper consumer, stocks of the metal in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange are at four-year highs of 380,085 tonnes.
In aluminium , total stocks surged 41,775 tonnes to 1.01 million tonnes, reversing a steady trend of declining stocks.
Pressure on metals and mining companies globally is increasing, with many announcing delays and suspensions of operations as the virus disrupts supply chains and puts restraints on staff.
Chilean copper miner Codelco will reduce operations for 15 days to comply with a national state of catastrophe while MMG Ltd reduced mining and the transport of concentrates in Peru.
“Should these (delays) extend beyond a few weeks, it could ultimately lead to a tighter market for copper in the medium term vs forecast surpluses generated by substantial mine supply growth through 2021-23,” analysts at Macquarie said in a note.
Elsewhere in the complex, aluminium was down 1.2 per cent at $US1,630 a tonne, zinc was steady at $US1,847, lead eased 3 per cent to $US1,625.50, tin added 2.4 per cent to $US13,900 and nickel lost 1.3 per cent to $US11,250.