London/Singapore - Copper was little changed on Friday as investors weighed the potential impact on metals demand of Thursday's data providing a more upbeat US jobs picture but also showing slower industrial activity in top metals consumer China.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange traded at $7,288.50 a tonne by 11:58 SA time, up 0.16 percent from its close on Thursday, when it reached a one-week low of $7,215.

China's factory activity shrank for the first time in seven months in May raising fears that its economic recovery has stalled.

Partially balancing concerns about China, which accounts for about 40 percent of global copper consumption, data from the United States showed a bigger-than-expected drop in claims for unemployment benefits.

“It seems positive data from the US has helped, with prices edging up slightly, but the data on China yesterday was bearish,” Sucden Financial analyst Kashaan Kamal said.

“We've seen a gradual price decline since late January as concerns of slower growth have put pressure on prices, but this recent data highlighted the bearish outlook for both domestic and export demand.”

China's economy grew by a less-than-forecast 7.7 percent in the first three months of the year.

Its imports of refined copper declined more than a third in January-April, dragging down LME copper prices by 12 percent from this year's peak.

TIGHTER SUPPLY

Despite the weakness in its manufacturing sector, China is unlikely to launch any stimulus, with the economy still on track to grow by 7.5-8 percent this year, in line with government targets, Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a note.

“Incremental easing - for instance a more accommodative stance toward the property sector - is about all we expect might change,” the bank said.

Fundamentals, in the meantime, were providing some support to copper prices.

Signalling demand for the metal may be improving, copper inventories in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange fell 7.2 percent from last Friday to their lowest in more than seven months, data showed on Friday.

Stocks in LME-registered warehouses also fell, daily data showed on Friday, posting a 2,700 tonnes decline to 621,175 tonnes, their lowest in two weeks.

A production outage since a May 15 tunnel collapse killed 28 workers at Grasberg in Indonesia, the world's second-largest copper mine, should also support prices.

A trade union official said on Thursday all investigations into the incident at the Freeport McMoRan mine must be completed before

workers return.

Jinchuan Group Ltd, China's third-largest copper producer, has shut a 200,000 tonne-a-year facility due to a raw scrap shortage, which could reduce its refined output by more than 16 percent this year, an executive said on Friday. - Reuters