Copper prices have crashed below $US5,000 a tonne for the first time in more than three years as growing expectations of surplus metal were reinforced by large deliveries to London Metal Exchange-registered warehouses.
Benchmark copper ended down 7.8 per cent at $US4,840 ($A8,226) a tonne in LME ring trading on Wednesday.
Prices of the metal used widely in power, construction and manufacturing are on course for their largest daily drop since October 2008, during the financial market crash that saw copper prices drop below $US3,000 a tonne.
Copper touched $US4,738.5 during the session, a drop of more than 25 per cent since the middle of January and the lowest since November 2016.
“At the start of the year, the copper market was expected to be in balance. That has changed,” one fund manager said.
“We’re going to see significant surpluses now. Prices need to fall so producers cut output. It’s the only way to balance the market.”
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 8,000 lives.
China accounts for about half of global copper consumption, estimated at about 24 million tonnes this year.
A Reuters survey published in January showed the market had been expecting a deficit of 160,000 tonnes.
Analysts plan to review their forecasts, but not until the damage to growth and demand can be gauged accurately.
Copper stocks in LME-approved warehouses have climbed nearly 30 per cent over the past few days to 233,150 tonnes.
Stocks of copper in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange stood at 380,085 tonnes, compared with less than 135,000 tonnes in the middle of January.
Investors have viewed action from the US Federal Reserve and policymakers in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere as insufficient given the global spread of coronavirus, which has forced many nations into lockdowns.
Fiscal stimulus in major economies around the world has also failed to reassure investors.
Prices of industrial metals have been supported by moves to shutter or wind down mining operations in Peru and likely supply chain disruptions in neighbouring Chile, the world’s top copper producer.
Falling costs of producing metal due to tumbling energy prices have lowered the floor for metal prices.
Prices of aluminium, zinc, lead and tin all hit their lowest since 2016.
Aluminium ended 0.1 per cent lower at $US1,649 a tonne, zinc slipped 1.3 per cent to $US1,846, lead gained 3.8 per cent to $US1,680, tin fell 4.9 per cent to $US13,575 and nickel dropped 3.3 per cent to $US11,395.