Industrial metal prices fell Tuesday because of worries that an unexpected drop in consumer confidence could mean slow demand in the U.S. economy.
The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell in January after two straight months of big gains. The group says Americans are more worried about their incomes, rising gas prices and overall business conditions.
The price of metals like copper and palladium often fall when traders think consumer spending is about to slow. The metals are used as raw materials to make everything from construction materials to consumer electronics.
Copper for March delivery dropped 3.65 cents to $3.79 per pound, and March palladium ended down $2.15 at $686.35 per ounce. April platinum fell $28.20 to $1,588.10 an ounce.
Tuesday's declines leave Copper and platinum down about 2 percent for the week, while palladium is down less than 1 percent since Monday.
The metals ended the day down after wild swings in the market. Traders bid up prices in morning trading, encouraged by news that European officials were making progress to contain the financial crisis there.
When the Conference Board released its report, prices fell quickly.
"This is a day that every trader takes Tums," said George Gero, vice president at RBC Global Futures.
Precious metal prices ended the day mixed. The price of gold rose, as it often does when it looks like the economy might shrink or the dollar might lose its value.
Traders buy gold because they think it's safer than stocks or metals with value tied to economic growth. Silver, on the other hand, is used as a raw material for electronics devices, so its value can fall along with copper and palladium prices.
Gold for April delivery gained $6 to finish at $1,740.40 an ounce. March silver dropped 26.5 cents to end at $33.262 an ounce.
Benchmark oil decreased 30 cents to end at $98.48 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil rose 1.31 cents to finish at $3.0509 per gallon, gasoline futures gained 1.82 cents to $2.8909 per gallon, and natural gas fell 21 cents to $2.503 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In March agriculture contracts, wheat jumped 21.25 cents to end at $6.66 per bushel, corn rose 7.25 cents to $6.39 per bushel and soybeans ended up 13.75 cents at $11.99 per bushel.
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