In afternoon New York trade on Wednesday copper for delivery in May edged higher to $2.65 per pound after a Chinese manufacturing survey showed factories are producing at the highest rate in five months.
Copper is now trading at the highest price since January 13 when a dramatic 8%-plus slide over just two sessions spooked the market. By the end of last month the metal had declined to $2.42 a pound, the lowest since July 2009, but gains for February now top 6%.
China’s flash manufacturing PMI index, showed expansionary conditions for the country’s factories for the first time in four months in February. The index, which measures levels of economic activity among small and medium businesses, jumped to above 50 from 49.7 in January – a reading that indicates expansion.
While export orders fell due to a strengthening renminbi and input costs declined further as the lower oil price works its way through the sector, domestic demand accelerated with output, work backlogs and new orders all increasing at a faster rate.
China dominates the global trade in just about every commodity including iron ore (representing more than 60% of world trade), copper (47%), coal (43%), nickel (36%), lead (44%) and zinc (41%), and the health of the world’s second largest economy is crucial to the mining industry.
The copper price is highly correlated with Chinese PMI numbers and as the graph shows the copper price may have much further to climb from today’s levels to close the demand gap.
While the Chinese economic is far from firing on all cylinders and the country’s struggling property sector will continue to dampen demand for metals, the copper price is also being supported by signs of faster growth elsewhere.
PMIs released earlier in the month showed manufacturing activity picked up in the euro-zone where output hit a seven-month high. The world’s third largest economy Japan is in expansionary mode, while February’s US PMI rose to a three-month high after notching up five-and-half years of a reading above 50.