Copper Drops on New Tariff Threats

Beckett Bronze produces cast bronze precision-machined parts and continuous cast bars. Castings are manufactured at the East 20th Street plant. The West 23rd Street plant produces finished machined parts and has about 75 machine tools including CNC lathes.


Copper prices fell Wednesday as the trade dispute between the U.S. and China intensified.

Front-month contracts for August delivery fell 3% to $2.735 a pound at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The selling came as White House advisers debated raising proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25% from 10%.

As Wednesday’s session ended, The Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. would indeed unveil the higher proposed duties.

The tariffs would add to those on $50 billion of products already in the works, part of President Trump’s threat to increase pressure on Beijing by extending punitive measures to all Chinese imports.

“As long as tariffs are allowed to metastasize, they do have the potential to do real damage to the global growth story,” said Edward Meir, a consultant for INTL FCStone. “What that means for commodities and for base metals in particular, is that price rallies do not have a real chance of taking root.”

Copper prices had risen on Tuesday on reports that U.S. and Chinese officials were in talks about reopening negotiations. But that early-week rally was more than neutralized as traders dumped tentative bets on rising prices, Alastair Munro, a broker at Marex Spectron, wrote in a note.

With Chinese consumption accounting for roughly half of all global copper demand, the futures market this week experienced a new wave of the volatility that has become commonplace in recent months.

“Just the idea that the U.S. is pushing a more aggressive tactic in terms of trade policy means that the fallout could be more dire,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, global head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas.

The toughening trade policy came after Washington last week softened its stance toward the European Union. The two parties agreed to various concessions in a deal to avoid new tariffs. Some analysts said a similar agreement was still possible with China.

“Rhetoric by Trump is varied and there’s still parallel talks expected,” said Xiao Fu, head of commodities at BOCI Global Commodities Research, referring to the possibility of a meeting between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Chinese envoy Liu He, and their staffs.

The trade fears may in the coming days be balanced by copper-specific supply concerns, some analysts said, with the prospect of labor disputes at a number of major mines increasing.

Workers at BHP Billiton ’s Chilean Escondida operation, the world’s largest copper mine, are due to finish voting Wednesday on whether to reject BHP’s most recent contract offer.

If no agreement is reached between the mining company and unions, a 30-day strike would begin in mid-August, according to Bloomberg. A 44-day strike at the mine last year provided some support to copper prices, and market participants were once again expecting moderate support from a similar action this year, according to BOCI Global Commodities Research’s Ms. Fu.

Observers also were watching similar strike threats at Chilean state-run company Codelco’s mine at Chuquicamata.

Gold prices also fell. August contracts slid 0.5% to $1,217.90 per troy ounce, the lowest close in over 12 months.

The gold market was pressured in part by a higher U.S. dollar. The WSJ Dollar Index rose 0.1% on Wednesday. Commodities priced in the currency become more expensive for global buyers when the dollar rises, making them a less attractive investment.

The Federal Reserve left short-term interest rates unchanged at a two-day meeting this week, while the central bank’s statement suggested it would likely raise rates for the third time this year at its September meeting.

Rising rates have added to the pressure on gold prices, with investors typically seeking out yield-bearing assets like bonds over the precious metal.

Write to Benjamin Parkin at Benjamin.Parkin@wsj.com and David Hodari at David.Hodari@dowjones.com


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