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Zinc breaks through $3 000 barrier

As metals rally gathers pace.

Zinc surged above $3 000 a metric ton amid persistent global deficits, and aluminum climbed as China reined in illegal capacity, adding fresh impetus to the rally even as some investors expressed concerns.

Zinc jumped as much as 2.6% to $3 037 a ton on the London Metal Exchange, the highest level since 2007, and traded at $3 029 at 1:20pm in London. Aluminum gained as much as 1.3% to $2 075.50 a ton, the highest since November 2014, while nickel, copper and lead all traded higher.

An index of base metals rallied to a two-year high last week amid better-than-expected demand in China and a weakening dollar. The Chinese government is stepping up moves to shut illegal aluminum and steel plants this year, both to cut excess capacity and help to protect the environment. 

Efforts to promote economic growth in China ahead of a leadership reshuffle scheduled for later this year are also boosting metals usage in manufacturing and industrial sectors, according to Bernard Dahdah, a metals analyst at Natixis SA in London.

“Earlier this year, a lot of the rally was supply related, but recently we’ve seen demand starting to support as well,” Dahdah said by phone.

Zinc rallied 60% last year as worldwide demand topped supply after producers including Glencore suspended some output. In the first five months of 2017, there was a global deficit of 181 000 tons, according to the World Bureau of Metal Statistics. 

The metal is also gaining from a favourable import arbitrage for Chinese buyers, and rising premiums in the physical market, analysts at Macquarie said in a note on August 15.

Lead has been boosted by China’s move to ban imports of metal concentrates from North Korea, the analysts wrote.

Supply disruptions at major mines have also helped to lift copper to the highest in nearly three years, while aluminum is the best performer on the Bloomberg Commodity Index after the Chinese government ordered output curbs.

China Hongqiao Group, the nation’s top aluminum smelter, confirmed on Tuesday it cut 2.68 million tons, or 29%, of annual capacity. UBS Group raised its near-term aluminum forecast to 95 cents a pound, or $2 094 a ton, for the fourth quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, according to a note received on Wednesday.

Tin is the only major base metal to fall this year on high levels of mine output in Myanmar that defied expectations of a slowdown. The metal content of tin concentrate shipments from Myanmar to China was up 43% in June from a year earlier, according to estimates from industry group Itri. Tin fell 0.5% on Wednesday. 

Nickel gained 2.4% and copper climbed 1.2%, snapping five days of losses after Freeport McMoRan warned employees that flooding near the Grasberg mine in Indonesia might crimp output at the world’s second-largest mine.

The metals rally has some investors warning of a pullback. 

Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey is shorting metal stocks in anticipation of slowing growth in China. “China’s economy in a year’s time will be much weaker than it is now,” Odey, whose London-based firm manages about $6 billion, said in a phone interview.

© 2017 Bloomberg

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