February 12, 2020 / 11:57 AM / 5 months ago

METALS-Copper makes modest gains as coronavirus infections drop

* LME zinc stocks climb from 30-year lows

* Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2uo6QJ3 (Updates with closing prices, China stimulus)

By Zandi Shabalala

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Copper climbed on Wednesday as China recorded its lowest number of new coronavirus cases in two weeks but concerns remained over the outbreak’s impact on the world’s second- largest economy and biggest metals consumer.

The epidemic could be over by April, a Chinese senior medical adviser said, as the number of new cases in the country fell, lifting stocks and other metals.

However, experts remained alarmed by the spread and the potential hit to factory activity and consumer spending in the world’s second-largest economy.

“Clearly the sell-off was overdone but we are not out of the woods yet,” said independent metals consultant Robin Bhar.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) ended 0.3% higher at $5,764 a tonne.

The metal used in power and construction fell for 14 straight sessions in a losing streak that ended earlier this month, the longest since Refinitiv records began in 1977.

“The copper price has already taken into account a massive decrease in economic activity recently and the coronavirus has lost its image of black swan,” said Commerzbank head of commodities research Eugen Weinberg.

ECONOMIC IMPACT: Most believe China faces a short but sharper economic shock than originally thought, one that will be felt around the world.

Expectations of how harsh the impact will be vary widely, however. Health professionals and economists say opaque Chinese data and lack of precedent hinder clear estimates.

PROP UP ECONOMY: Chinese policymakers have implemented a raft of measures to support an economy jolted by the coronavirus outbreak that is expected to have a devastating impact on first-quarter growth.

INVENTORIES: Headline nickel stocks climbed 1,020 tonnes to highest since December 2018 at 209,742 tonnes in LME-approved warehouses. MNISTX-TOTAL

LME zinc stocks added 575 tonnes to 72,600 tonnes, their highest since mid-August. This has pushed cash zinc contract into a $5 a tonne discount over the three-month contract CMZN0-3 MZNSTX-TOTAL.

Last week stocks of zinc on the LME hit their lowest in 30 years but analysts said off-exchange inventories in the 14-million-tonne a year market were still high.

RIO TINTO: Rio Tinto , operator of the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine in Mongolia, said there has been a slowdown in copper concentrate shipments crossing the Mongolia-China border due to coronavirus containment efforts.

The miner also said it may cut operations or shut down its aluminium smelter in Iceland, as it struggles to generate profits at the site because of tough conditions in the aluminium market and high power costs.

OTHER PRICES: LME aluminium was up 0.2% at $1,737 a tonne, zinc was steady at $2,147, lead inched up 0.2% to $1,854, tin added 0.2% to $16,500, while nickel was marginally lower at $13,100 a tonne. (Reporting by Zandi Shabalala, additional reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and David Evans)

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