By Susan Thomas and Charlotte East
LONDON - Copper fell on Wednesday, after hitting a one-month high the previous day, as the dollar rose and investors assessed progress in solving the euro zone debt crisis, while a decision by BHP Billiton to hold off on big projects helped support prices.
Other markets also fell, with European shares slipping from 13-month highs and oil easing below $114 a barrel.
Growing speculation that the European Central Bank will soon take action to tackle the debt crisis that has blighted major economies helped lift sentiment, but investors were still wary after previous promises failed to live up to expectations.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange, untraded in the rings, was bid at $7,575 per tonne, down from a close of $7,610 on Tuesday, when it hit the highest level since July 20, at $7,632 per tonne.
Markets in the United States had performed strongly on Tuesday, with the broad Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbing to a four-year intraday high. There were also indications that the Peoples Bank of China was expanding credit.
“I think that those two things were important yesterday in helping to keep prices elevated,” Deutsche Bank analyst Dan Brebner said.
“Today I think the (metals) market is weighing those factors, but also we've had some very average-to-negative data out of Japan, with trade numbers worse than expected, so I think that some of that enthusiasm seems to be waning modestly today.”
Japan's exports slumped the most in six months in July as shipments to Europe and China tumbled, adding to concerns over global demand. China is the world's largest consumer of copper.
The dollar rose against a basket of currencies, making commodities priced in the U.S. unit more expensive for holders of other currencies.
In a positive for copper, top global miner BHP Billiton
said it would delay its planned $20 billion Olympic Dam copper expansion and that would approve no major projects in the year to June 2013 as it battles escalating capital costs.
“Yes, it's a longer-term positive,” Brebner said of the impact of that decision on the copper price.
“But I think it reflects not only caution by the mining companies but also their difficulty in seeing how commodities will perform or how metals markets will evolve over the next couple of years,” he said.
Global demand for copper, despite China's slowing economic growth, is still widely expected to outstrip supply this year due to mine disruptions and a lack of major new projects.
The International Copper Study Group (ICSG) said on Tuesday the global market for refined copper was in a 405,000 tonne deficit from January to May this year, sharply bigger than a 98,000 tonne deficit in the same period of 2011.
Later on Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve will publish the minutes of its most recent meeting, which will be scoured for clues on whether the central bank is gearing up for more stimulus as early as its September meeting.
“All eyes will be on the Fed's July FOMC minutes ... to see how the doves and the hawks in the Fed are positioned and what conditions are needed for QE3,” Sharps Pixley said in a research note. - Reuters