Copper prices shuffled between gains and losses Wednesday, as investors weighed a weaker dollar against poor economic data from China, the world’s largest consumer of the industrial metal.
Copper for July delivery, the most actively traded contract, was recently down 0.3% at $2.9220 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices were as high as $2.9475 a pound earlier in the session.
U.S. retail sales barely budged in April, data from the Commerce Department showed Wednesday, a sign of continued consumer caution heading into the spring. The numbers heightened investor concerns that the economy is still on shaky footing after a spate of weak data over the last few months and drove down the dollar–a positive for copper and other raw materials, which are denominated in the U.S. currency and become more affordable to foreign buyers when the buck falls.
The shaky U.S. numbers make it unlikely the Federal Reserve will raise rates in the next few months, which is “good news for all commodities,” said Frank Lesh, a broker at Futurepath Trading.
Negative economic news from China, however, weighed on the metal. While the world’s second-largest economy reported signs of a slight improvement in its key industrial sector in April after an unusually weak performance in March, the property sector and retail sales were less robust than expected. Copper is used extensively in manufacturing and construction, making it particularly sensitive to economic data.
Previously, copper prices had gained on weak Chinese data as investors bet that the government would bring in additional stimulus, which could boost demand for the industrial metal. However, Wednesday’s data showed that the stimulus measures taken so far have yet to find their mark.
“The Chinese economic and financial market data that were published today have proved disappointing across the board,” analysts at Commerzbank said in a note to investors. “Underlying problems such as overcapacities and indebtedness remain unsolved, meaning that the price rise is unlikely to be lasting in nature.”