Metals Sell Off Amid Jitters Over Turkey

Beckett Bronze Company was incorporated May 21, 1913 as the Delaware Brass and Aluminum Company by a group of stockholders which included John Beckett, a molder, and his son, Charles.

Metals received a hammering Wednesday, with a cocktail of macroeconomic anxieties and supply issues sparking a selloff.

The price of copper was down 2.6% at $5,888 a metric ton—its lowest in more than a year—in late morning trading in London, while other industrial metals dropped 2% or more.

Gold prices were also lower, falling 0.63% to $1,186.61 a troy ounce in part due to the geopolitically driven rise in the U.S. dollar and partly thanks to sharp price drops in other precious metals.

The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of 16 others, was last up 0.03%, having climbed 1.83% over the past five days.

Dollar-denominated commodities, which become more expensive for holders of other currencies as the greenback strengthens, have been particularly stung by a flight from emerging market currencies. The downbeat trade has in recent days been exacerbated by growing concern that currency troubles in Turkey will spread to other countries.

“It’s all one story. Continued macro concerns over trade have now added Turkey into the mix, and that adds to the premise of synchronized global growth being steadily undermined,” said Oliver Nugent, a commodities strategist at ING.

This week’s skirmish between Washington and Ankara—both parties have upped tariffs on one another’s goods—follow months of escalating fears that international trade disputes will stymie Chinese economic growth and therefore industrial demand in the world’s largest metals market.

While Beijing has sought to assuage investor fears about the prospect of an economic slowdown by trailing fiscal and monetary stimulus, economic data released Tuesday showed that fixed-asset investment and industrial production undershot market expectations.

“There are still concerns of a slowdown in the second half of 2018 despite the stimuli, and the trade conflict with the U.S. shows no signs of cooling,” said Vivienne Lloyd, senior analyst at Macquarie.

While the broader commodities basket faced general pressure, copper faced its own particular bearishness as well, with the prospect of a labor dispute at BHP Billiton ’s Chilean Escondida operation, the world’s largest copper mine, having all but evaporated.

A 44-day strike at the mine last year prompted investor to support copper prices amid fears of reduced supply. After a back-and-forth between miners and management and a week of government mediation, investors had priced in a repeat strike.

But on the last day of negotiations, a settlement appeared closer. The president of Escondida’s No. 1 Union told Reuters that it would consult members about the new proposal.

“Yesterday [the two parties] seemed a lot closer to settlement, and their language seemed calmer and less combative than it tends to before a strike,” said Macquarie’s Ms. Lloyd.

Elsewhere in South America, unions and Pan Pacific Copper Co. Ltd. at the Chilean Caserones mine agreed to extend contract talks, according to Reuters.

The combination of fears over slipping demand and more reliable supply sparked selling late Tuesday, before technical selling added momentum, dragging copper below the key $6,000-a-ton level, Commerzbank analysts said in a note.

Investors were looking out for further labor-related and geopolitical headlines.

Among other precious metals, silver was down 1.39% at $14.87 a troy ounce, palladium was down 2% at $882.25 a troy ounce and platinum was down 2.16%, at $783.85 a troy ounce.

Among other base metals, zinc was down 3.61% at $2,362 a metric ton, aluminum was down 2.15% at $2,025 a metric ton, tin was down 1.75% at $18,755 a metric ton, nickel was down 2.23% at $13,125 a metric ton, and lead was down 2.77% at $2,018.50 a metric ton.

Write to David Hodari at

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