Copper price leaps 26-month high on strong Chinese rebound

Shanghai skyline. Stock image.

Copper easily cleared the pivotal $3 a pound level on Monday as the recovery in the Chinese economy, the world’s top consumer of the metal, gains momentum.  

Copper for delivery in December trading on the Comex market in New York changed hands for $3.065 a pound ($6,757 a tonne) in early afternoon trade, the highest since June 2018. Monday’s move brings gains for 2020 to 10% and a mouthwatering 58% since the covid-19 lows struck in March.

“Prices still have the potential to increase, but in the short-term they will be floating around,” analyst He Tianyu of CRU Group told Reuters, expecting a price rally from mid-September at the earliest, when the traditionally strong copper season kicks in.

Parallels to GFC

Jonathan Barnes of Roskill said in a recent report the copper price will likely rise further towards the end of 2020, and that the current environment has strong parallels to the rebound in the copper price after the global financial crisis, thanks to massive stimulus efforts by Beijing. 

In Shanghai, copper recorded its fifth straight month of gains – the longest winning streak since 2009 

On the Shanghai Futures Exchange, the bellwether metal racked up its fifth straight month of gains in August, which is the longest winning streak since 2009. 

Copper hit a low of $1.32 a pound in January 2009, then surged to $3.55 by April of the next year on its way to an all-time peak just shy of $4.58 (more than $10,000 per tonne) in February 2011.

Roskill believes that while the effects of covid-19 could decrease world consumption of the metal by 3%–4% this year, the drop in mine output and scrap flows has been greater.

Economic rebound

A key gauge of Chinese economic activity released on Monday showed continuing expansion of the country’s manufacturing and services sector in August. 

While the official manufacturing PMI index declined slightly to 51.0 (a reading above 50 means expansionary conditions) on the back of flooding in the manufacturing centres in southwest China, the services sector leaped to 55.2 – a 31-month high. 

An investment-led rebound would eventually also shore up consumer sentiment and household spending, keeping the overall economic recovery on track

The construction index stayed above 60 on the back of Beijing’s stimulus programs, despite which lifted the composite to 54.5 – a two-year high.

Capital Economics says in a note, “it’s not too surprising that the manufacturing PMI has started to level off since growth in industry has already returned to its pre-virus level.”:

But with fiscal support on course to be stepped up in the coming months, we still think there is some further upside to industrial activity. Meanwhile, it’s encouraging that the recovery is broadening out, with service sector activity now playing catch-up with industry.

This is consistent with our view that an investment-led rebound would eventually also shore up consumer sentiment and household spending, keeping the overall economic recovery on track.