In New York trade on Tuesday copper for delivery in September suffered another down day despite indications of continued strong Chinese demand.
Copper dipped to $2.14 per pound ($4,718 a tonne), a four-week low. While other industrial metals and steelmaking raw materials have jumped in value this year, industry bellwether copper has been underperforming badly. The red metal is now trading flat year to date following a 26% decline in 2015.
China is responsible for more than 45% of copper demand and according to customs data released yesterday the country’s imports of unwrought copper and copper products were 360,000 tonnes during July.
That’s a 14.3% decline from June which was mostly ascribed to seasonal factors but shipment still showed a slight improvement compared to July 2015 . For the first seven months refined imports are by nearly one-fifth at 3.1 million tonnes from the same period last year. Imports of refined metal hit a record 570,000 tonnes in March.
The increase in copper concentrate imports are even more dramatic. Chinese smelters imported 1.38 million tonnes or 2.2% more concentrate last month than June.
Compared to July last year concentrate imports surged 42.8%. For the first seven months imports are up 36% at 9.4 million tonnes. Concentrate imports hit an all-time high in December.
“You’ll have to wait a few more weeks, or maybe one or two months, until the seasonally low demand from China is over and demand picks up,” Daniel Briesemann at Commerzbank in Frankfurt told CNBC after the release of the import data:
“I’m convinced that the copper market is tighter than many other copper market participants believe. I’m still comfortable with my price target of $5,200 for end of the year.”
Commerzbank’s outlook is much sunnier than other analysts. Consensus forecast of 30 institutions compiled by FocusEconomics in July sees copper averaging $4,867 in the final quarter of 2016 and $5,168 in Q4 2017.
Goldman Sachs came out with a particularly bearish forecast on Friday and the investment bank now predicts double digit declines for the metal to a low of $1.80 per pound 12 months from now as a wall of new supply from Chile, Peru and Zambia hits the market.