February 22, 2018 / 11:36 AM / 2 years ago

METALS-Nickel, zinc hit week lows as China returns, steel slumps

* LME/ShFE arb: bit.ly/2wZSAEz (Updates with closing prices)

By Eric Onstad

LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Nickel and zinc hit their lowest levels in over a week on Thursday as Chinese investors sold metals as their markets opened after holidays and steel prices dropped.

Prices came off their lows in the European afternoon after the dollar reversed direction and slipped into negative territory, making commodities priced in the greenback cheaper for buyers using other currencies.

Trading on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (ShFE) resumed on Thursday after a week-long break for the Lunar New Year.

“It’s a flurry of sales after the markets reopened. Probably traders, merchants and some arb players are behind this move, looking to capture some profit before buying interest returns,” said Robin Bhar, head of metals research at Societe Generale in London.

“I wouldn’t have thought this would last too long given we’re moving into the peak season of demand, which runs from March to June.”

The move lower was across the board on the London Metal Exchange, but nickel and zinc were the hardest hit after Chinese steel futures dropped nearly 2 percent, at one point touching their weakest level in five weeks.

Nickel is mainly used in stainless steel while zinc is largely used for galvanising steel.

* DOLLAR: A stronger dollar initially weighed on the LME complex, which climbed to a 10-day high against a basket of major currencies after minutes of the Federal Reserve’s January meeting were released on Wednesday. But the dollar later dipped into negative territory. * NICKEL: LME benchmark nickel closed down 0.1 percent at $13,830 a tonne, bouncing after touching $13,390, the weakest since Feb. 13.

* ZINC: LME zinc shed 0.3 percent to end at $3,530 a tonne after hitting $3,437, the lowest since Feb. 13.

* COPPER: LME three-month copper bucked the weaker trend and added 0.6 percent to finish at $7,162 a tonne.

* COPPER STOCKS: Record high stocks of copper in land-locked Arizona and Utah are a reflection of soaring transport costs in the United States and weak demand for the industrial metal produced in the Americas, copper industry sources say.

* ALUMINIUM OUTPUT: Global primary aluminium output rose to 5.557 million tonnes in January from a revised 5.398 million tonnes in December, data from the International Aluminium Institute showed on Thursday.

* ALUMINIUM: LME aluminium declined 0.7 percent to close at $2,185 a tonne. Chinese aluminium inventory, including ShFE levels and off-exchange stocks, has climbed to 1.96 million tonnes, up from 1.82 million before the Chinese holidays, according to news website SMM.

“Overall we expect over a 1 million tonne (pre-trade) China surplus for the year,” ING analysts led by Hamza Khan said in a note.

PRICES: LME lead fell 0.4 percent to end at $2,545 while tin dipped 0.2 percent to $21,575.

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Reporting by Eric Onstad, graphic by Pratima Desai; Editing by David Evans

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