Copper rose on Friday and was on track to close the week with small gains, bolstered by news that top consumer China's economy grew in the fourth quarter, but concerns about US debt and supply surpluses kept gains in check.
China's economy grew at a slightly faster-than-expected 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, the latest sign it is pulling out of a post-global financial crisis slowdown that produced its weakest year of economic growth since 1999.
The data followed more evidence that the US economy remained on track, with weekly US unemployment claims at five year-lows and a surge in residential construction in December.
Still, worries over the US debt persist, with squabbling in Washington raising the spectre that the US may be forced to delay debt payments.
The treasury hit its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling on New Year's Eve, and will run short of funds as early as mid-February.
Also weighing on copper, stocks in Shanghai inched down 0.3 percent from last week to 208,568 tonnes, but remained near their highest since April last year.
Stocks on the LME remain near their highest levels in about a year, latest data showed. Meanwhile, analysts estimate bonded stocks are between 800,000-900,000 tonnes.
“The two key points for 2013 is the seasonal restocking in China (which) kicks off after the Chinese New Year - that will likely support prices above $8,000 a tonne in the first quarter,” said UBS commodity and mining analyst Angus Staines.
“But after that we're going to see a return to fundamentals and for copper that means an oversupplied market.”
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange traded up 0.32 percent at $8,079 a tonne by 12:15 SA time, to hit its highest in four sessions, adding to gains from the previous session, when it closed up more than 1 percent.
Copper prices hit a 2013 low of $7,920 a tonne on Wednesday, but are set to close the week up 0.4 percent.
Copper's upside run has sputtered since hitting 2-1/2 month highs in early January, knocked down by a lack of demand from China - which consumes 40 percent of the world's copper - and by fears over the upcoming US debt ceiling negotiations.
“The macro picture both out of the United States and China look good for metals,” said analyst Ed Meir of INTL FC Stone in New York..
“Still, as we get into February, the focus will then revert to what is going on in the United States. If they don't raise the debt ceiling it's going to be a mess. Expect more of the same - (copper prices) muddling along,” he added.
In the physical markets, traders in Asia said business was quiet ahead of the new year period, with premiums for copper at a steady $30-$40 in warehouse Singapore, and around $50-$60 in Shanghai bonded warehouse.
“Sure we have copper,” said one Singapore trader, “but there's not a buyer in sight. Bonded premiums tend to stay softer before Lunar New Year and pick up after that,” he added.
Traders said demand for stainless steel material nickel was slack, with Singapore stock locked away on finance deals, and premiums for Shanghai metal sitting around $80 to $90.
LME nickel, the worst performing metal in the complex last year, rose 0.39 percent to $17,669, even as LME stocks edged up 576 tonnes at 147,804 tonnes, near their highest levels in almost three years.
Soldering metal tin rose 0.96 percent to $25,160 a tonne, zinc, used in galvanising, climbed 1.36 percent to $2,037.25 a tonne, battery
material lead rose 1.28 percent to $2,314.25 a tonne, while aluminium gained 0.56 percent to $2,060 a tonne.
In industry news, Rio Tinto sacked chief executive Tom Albanese and revealed a $14 billion writedown almost entirely on the value of his two most significant acquisitions, the Alcan aluminium group and Mozambican coal. - Reuters