* GRAPHIC-2019 asset returns: tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl (Updates with closing prices)
By Eric Onstad
LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Zinc prices rose on Wednesday as inventories in London Metal Exchange warehouses hit fresh lows, but other industrial metals dipped on uncertainty over global demand.
Low inventories of many metals in LME-registered warehouses are helping to bolster prices despite weak economic data from top metals consumer China, said Ross Strachan, senior commodities economist at Capital Economics in London.
“The exchange stocks being at very low levels are understandably keeping many market participants on edge about the outlook when there has been speculation that a (U.S.-China) trade deal is near,” he said.
“We’re still expecting very sluggish demand growth across the metals and we think that will be a major drag on prices. In fact, you could see exchange stocks rise significantly later in the year.”
Prices may also be gaining some support from investors betting on a dovish statement by the U.S. Federal Reserve later on Wednesday, some analysts said.
Benchmark zinc was the biggest LME gainer, rising 1.6 percent to $2,863 a tonne in closing open outcry activity.
* ZINC/NICKEL STOCKS: LME zinc inventories MZNSTX-TOTAL, down 55 percent this year, touched their lowest since October 2007 and LME nickel stocks MNISTX-TOTAL fell to their lowest since June 2013, LME data showed on Wednesday. Inventories in China, however, are more plentiful.
* AMBATOVY: Nickel gained support from Japanese trading house Sumitomo Corp announcing that it was forced to shut its Ambatovy nickel plant in Madagascar for about two weeks in early February and could miss its revised annual production target.
LME nickel was untraded in final rings and was bid 0.1 percent firmer at $13,200.
* NORSK HYDRO: LME aluminium hit a three-month peak of $1,951.50 a tonne before sinking into the red and ending down 0.5 percent to $1,937.
Prices came under pressure after major producer Norsk Hydro said it had made some progress in restoring operations after it was hit by a ransomware cyber attack. However, the company was not yet back to normal, it said.
* ALUMINIUM OUTPUT: Global primary aluminium output fell to 4.92 million tonnes in February from a revised 5.411 million tonnes in January, data showed on Wednesday.
* TRADE: U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a trade deal with Beijing is coming along, with U.S. trade negotiators going to China soon.
* LEAD TECHNICALS: LME lead, which closed up 0.3 percent at $2,044.50 a tonne, could break through support at $2,011, Commerzbank technical analyst Axel Rudolph said in a note. “We will retain our immediately bearish forecast while the price of lead remains below the mid-March high at $2,131,” he said.
* PRICES: LME copper ended barely changed, down 0.03 percent at $6,457 a tonne, while tin rose 0.5 percent to $21,375.
Reporting by Eric Onstad Editing by Jan Harvey and David Goodman