* GRAPHIC-2017 asset returns: tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl
* LME/ShFE arb: bit.ly/2wZSAEz (Adds closing prices)
By Zandi Shabalala
LONDON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Zinc and nickel rallied to multi-year highs on Thursday on a softer dollar and steadily declining inventories in London Metal Exchange-approved warehouses.
Lead also rose to its highest in over seven years but ended the day lower.
The dollar skidded against other major currencies on Thursday after the U.S. treasury secretary said he welcomed a weaker greenback. A weaker dollar makes commodities more affordable for buyers paying with other currencies.
Capital Economics senior commodities economist Caroline Bain said a stronger dollar had supported commodities across the board but warned that expectations for rising U.S. interest rates tempered the outlook.
“Commodity prices could have further to go because there is a lot of momentum and optimism, as we can see in the futures market,” Bain said.
“But over the course of this year we will see this optimism fading and we think the global economy and China will slow down, leading to lower prices.”
INVENTORIES: On-warrant LME inventories of lead MPBSTX-TOTAL — those not earmarked for delivery — fell by 1,200 tonnes to 78,000 tonnes and have shed 31 percent since mid-September.
LEAD PRICE: Lead closed 1.3 percent to $2,601 a tonne. It earlier touched its highest since August 2011 at $2,653.
LEAD TRADE: Capping gains was Chinese data showing December lead imports down 18 percent.
ZINC PRICE: Zinc hit a decade high of $3,481.50 a tonne as headline stocks reached a more than nine-year low of 179,450 tonnes. It closed 0.7 percent higher at $3,465.
NICKEL: Customs data showed that China’s refined nickel imports grew by 116 percent year on year last month. LME nickel touched its highest since May 2015 and rose 0.8 percent to $13,685 a tonne. Nickel, mainly used in stainless steel, had jumped by 5.6 percent in the previous session.
LME COPPER: Copper slipped 0.2 percent to $7,145 a tonne. Prices have rebounded from one-month lows towards the highest in a week but are still below the late-December peak of $7,312 and expected to be pressured by rising exchange inventories.
COPPER INVENTORIES: On-warrant copper stocks in LME-approved warehouses jumped by 24,825 tonnes to 253,400 tonnes and are up 67 percent over the past week. Headline levels have climbed by 46 percent to 299,600 tonnes.
CHINA: China’s December refined copper imports fell 8.8 percent year on year to 328,338 tonnes, according to customs data on Thursday. The figure was also down fractionally from November.
Capital Economics’ Bain said the market had been overestimating copper demand and that it was no surprise to see stocks reappearing.
PRICES: Aluminium dipped by 0.4 percent to $2,241 and tin rose 1.4 percent to $21,380.
Additional reporting by Melanie Burton and Tom Daly; Editing by David Goodman and David Evans