Copper Slump Continues on Latest Trade Threats

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Copper prices fell for the fifth time in the past six sessions on Thursday after the U.S. turned up the heat on China, with the Trump administration threatening Wednesday to more than double proposed tariffs on imports, while Congress passed a defense bill designed to restrict Beijing’s economic and military activity.

Copper for September delivery was recently down 0.7% at $2.7295 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices are near their lowest levels in more than a year, tumbling on worries that a trade war between the U.S. and China will slow the Chinese economy and lower demand for copper and other materials. Copper is down about 18% from its June four-year high.

China is the world’s largest consumer of commodities, accounting for about half the world’s copper demand.

Analysts remain uncertain about how tariffs might impact commodity demand, and that anxiety continues to swing metals prices.

Lukewarm economic data from China have also hurt industrial metals widely used in construction and manufacturing lately, keeping copper under pressure despite recent government stimulus measures that some think could support the Chinese economy.

“I wouldn’t call it a complete 180, but effectively it’s China saying ‘we’re preparing for a trade war and we have to look after our domestic economy,’ ” said Colin Hamilton, managing director commodities research at BMO Capital Markets. “More capital allows them to press on with building and backstop their economic growth.”

Copper has fallen despite the prospect of labor disruptions at BHP Billiton ’s Chilean Escondida operation, the world’s largest copper mine, lowering supply. Unions at Escondida have said more than 80% of workers have voted to reject the miner’s most recent contract offer. If workers reject further offers, a strike as long as a month could begin as early as mid-August.

A 44-day strike at Escondida last year helped boost prices, but some analysts are waiting to see if one actually develops given the unease over global demand.

Among precious metals, gold for December delivery edged down 0.2% to $1,224.70 a troy ounce. A strong dollar and rising Treasury yields have sent the yellow metal to its lowest levels in a year by making gold more expensive for overseas buyers and less attractive to some investors.

Write to David Hodari at David.Hodari@dowjones.com and Amrith Ramkumar at amrith.ramkumar@wsj.com


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