Copper prices closed sharply lower this week after a series of gloomy reports about the global economy.
Copper fell 2.5 percent Friday after China said its first-quarter economic growth slowed and worries lingered about Europe's financial problems. It was the fourth decline this week.
Copper can be an indicator of economic health because it is used in a wide range of products from automobiles and building materials to consumer electronics. Investors worry about demand for the industrial metal if there are signs that the global economy is slowing.
China said its economic growth fell to an 8.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter, which was the weakest expansion since the second quarter of 2009. That compared with 8.9 percent growth in the fourth quarter. Slower growth in the world's second-biggest economy can have a ripple effect around the globe because it may mean weaker demand for commodities. China is a huge importer of raw materials such as copper, oil and soybeans.
Many analysts speculated that the Chinese government may lower interest rates or reduce the minimum level of reserves banks are required to hold in an effort to stimulate growth.
But INTL FC Stone analyst Edward Meir believes that such moves will have a limited impact. "We suspect that China's `slow-patch' still needs more time to play out as some of the excesses are worked out of the system," he wrote in a research report.
In addition to China, worries lingered about Europe's financial crisis after yields on Spanish bonds inched higher. The combination of news caused a broad decline in commodity prices as investors wondered about the pace of global economic growth.
Copper for May delivery fell 9.35 cents to end at $3.627 per pound. The price has dropped 4.7 percent this week. It reached a high for the year of $3.98 a pound on Feb. 9.
Gold for June delivery fell $20.40 to finish at $1,660.20 an ounce, May silver dropped $1.135 to $31.39 an ounce, July platinum decreased $18.10 to $1,587.90 per ounce and June palladium ended down $5.90 to $647.20 an ounce.
Benchmark oil prices fell 81 cents to finish at $102.83 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil rose 0.83 cent to $3.1746 per gallon, gasoline futures decreased 1.06 cents to $3.3461 per gallon and natural gas dropped 0.2 cent to $1.981 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In May agricultural contracts, wheat dropped 15.75 cents to end at $6.235 per bushel, corn fell 8.25 cents to $6.2925 per bushel and soybeans decreased 4.25 cents at $14.3675 per bushel.
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