METALS MORNING VIEW 23/03: Cross currents lead to choppy metals’ prices

Volatility has picked up in the base metals trading on the London Metals Exchange in recent days, with prices down an average of 0.4% this morning, Thursday March 23. This is after prices rebounded on Wednesday afternoon following a bout of weakness that started on Monday.

Large cancellations of lead warrants on the LME on Wednesday, combined with concerns about flooding in Peru that is disrupting zinc and lead supply, seemed to have been behind the rebound.

This morning base metals prices are off between little changed for aluminium and down 0.7% for tin, three-month copper prices are off 0.3% at $5,820 per tonne. Volume has been low with 4,090 lots traded as of 06:14 GMT.

Precious metals are up an average of 0.3% this morning, spot gold prices are little changed at $1,246.07 per oz, silver prices are up 0.2%, platinum prices are up 0.4% and palladium prices are up 0.8%. Gold prices have generally been upbeat since March 15.

In Shanghai, base metals prices on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, are also rebounding, with prices up an average of 0.6%, nickel prices are bucking the trend with a 0.3% loss, while the rest are up between 2.3% for lead and 0.2% for tin. Copper prices are up 0.7% at 47,210 yuan per tonne. Spot copper prices in Changjiang are up 0.8% at 46,740-46,940 yuan per tonne, the LME/Shanghai copper arb ratio is at 8.11, meaning the arb window remains closed.

In other metals in China, September iron ore prices are down 1.3% on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, on the SHFE, steel rebar prices are rebounding, they are up 0.3%, silver prices are off 0.1% and gold prices are up 0.2%. In international markets, spot Brent crude oil prices are up 0.2% at $50.90 per barrel, while the yield on the 10-year US treasuries are weaker at 2.41%.

The recent bout of weakness in equities started to run out of steam on Wednesday with the Euro Stoxx 50 closing down 0.3%, while the Dow closed off less than 0.1%. Equities in Asia this morning are for the most part firmer with the Nikkei, Kospi and CSI 300 up 0.2%, the ASX 200 is up 0.4% and the Hang Seng little changed. So was the recent risk-off just a nervous sell-off that has attracted bargain hunting, or is this rebound just a “dead cat bounce”?

Judging by continued weakness in the dollar index we would not be surprised if another wave of weakness followed. If it does not then it suggests underlying sentiment remains bullish and fairly robust. The dollar index was recently quoted at 99.66, the euro is holding up in high ground at 1.0800, the sterling is strong at 1.2511, as is the yen at 111.26 and the Australian dollar at 0.7664 is strengthening again too.

The yuan is flat at 6.8874 and most emerging currencies we follow are hovering just below recent highs, although the peso and rand are looking set to strengthen further.

The economic agenda is busy today with German GfK consumer climate, there is an ECB economic bulletin, an announcement on long term refinancing and EU consumer confidence, data on UK retail sales and realised sales and US data includes new home sales and natural gas storage. In addition UK Monetary Policy Committee member Ben Broadbent, US Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen and US Federal Open Market Committee members Neel Kashkari and Robert Kaplan are speaking – see table below for more details.

Base metals prices have become choppier in recent weeks and the upsides do seem capped by overhead selling/supply, but dips are also tending to be short-lived, even if some have been quite severe. Overall, we would say sentiment remains mildly bullish in that dips are being bought and the sellers are not too interested in chasing prices lower, instead they seem prepared for prices to come to their selling levels. The exception is nickel that is looking weaker than the rest. On balance this suggests we may see more range-trading up at these relatively high price levels as the markets seem quite well balanced. Whether buying steps up a gear as we enter the second quarter remains to be seen.

Gold prices have rebounded again in recent days and the blip of risk-off this week has given prices a further boost. With the dollar still on a back footing, despite a firmer tone in other markets since Wednesday afternoon, gold prices are managing to hold up well, but they may start to struggle if equities and other assets classes regain their firmer tone.

Metal Bulletin publishes live futures reports throughout the day, covering major metals exchanges news and prices.

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