Most commodity prices fell Thursday after new reports signaled economic slowdowns in China and Europe, creating fresh worry that global demand could moderate.
Metals, oil and some agricultural crops all finished lower. Palladium took the biggest hit, ending the session down 5.5 percent.
A Chinese manufacturing index compiled by HSBC was the latest in a series of reports indicating slower growth in the world's second-largest economy. The index declined to 48.1 in March from 49.6 in February. Figures below 50 indicate that manufacturing is contracting.
The news is particularly troubling for commodities investors because China is a huge user of raw materials, from copper and oil to soybeans.
The pace of China's rapid growth has slowed over the past year as the country took steps to keep the economy from overheating. Earlier this month, China said economic growth fell to 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2011 from double-digit expansion the year before.
Separately, financial information company Markit said its European composite purchasing managers' index fell to 48.8 in March from 49.3 in February. The index combines the services and manufacturing sectors for countries that use the euro as currency.
Investors likely will remain cautious until there are signs of more improvement in Europe's economy or an indication that China will take steps to lower the ratio of funds that banks must hold in reserves in an effort to stimulate economic growth, RJ O'Brien commodities broker Phil Streible said.
Copper for May delivery fell 8 cents to finish at $3.7655 per pound, May silver dropped 88.2 cents to $31.345 per ounce, June palladium declined $37.60 to $651.05 per ounce and April platinum ended down $28.30 at $1,612.10 per ounce.
Gold for April delivery fell $7.80 to $1,642.50 an ounce.
Benchmark oil fell $1.92 to finish at $105.35 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil fell 3.75 cents to end at $3.1787 per gallon, gasoline futures declined 1.75 cents to $3.3396 per gallon and natural gas dropped 9.1 cents to $2.269 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In May agricultural contracts, wheat rose 10 cents to finish at $6.4625 per bushel, corn increased 2.5 cents to $6.445 per bushel and soybeans fell 5.5 cents to $13.495 per bushel.
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