Copper prices fell Monday after a survey showed China's manufacturing sector slowed in May, an indication that the pace of growth may be easing in the world's-second largest economy.
Copper also was pressured by a decline in Chinese imports and a stronger dollar. It headed a parade of falling prices for most commodities as fears continued to grow about Europe's effort to resolve its debt problems.
China is a huge importer of commodities, from copper to oil. Investors are concerned the government's efforts to control inflation could hurt demand.
The preliminary HSBC Flash China Purchasing Managers' Index for May fell to 51.1 from 51.8 in April, marking the slowest pace of growth in 10 months, Barclays Capital analysts said in a client report.
In addition, China's refined copper imports in April fell by 48 percent and concentrate imports fell by 23 percent from the previous year, the analysts said. Scrap imports increased 2 percent from a year ago.
Meanwhile, Italy was drawn into Europe's widespread debt problems after Standard & Poor's lowered its outlook Saturday for the country's debt to negative from stable. That means there is a one-in-three chance that S&P would downgrade Italy's debt rating in the next two years.
Some investors are concerned that Italy could join Greece, Portugal and Ireland on the list of European countries with serious debt problems.
"The bottom line here is we are starting to see concerns or fears of a slowdown in China and obviously in Europe," said Dave Meger, vice president of metals trading at Vision Financial Markets.
In metals contracts for July delivery, copper fell 13 cents to settle at $3.9915 a pound, silver dropped 18.3 cents to $34.904 an ounce and platinum lost $13.50 to $1,755.90 an ounce. June palladium settled down $3.70 at $731.80 an ounce.
Gold was one of the few commodities to gain as investors sought safety. Gold for June delivery rose $6.50 to settle at $1,515.40 an ounce.
Most commodities were hurt by a stronger dollar. Commodities are priced in dollars so a stronger dollar means they become more expensive for buyers using other currencies.
In other trading, oil prices settled down 2.4 percent on ongoing concerns about Chinese demand.
Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., said Monday China consumed 9.37 million barrels per day in April compared with 8.3 percent from the same period last year. The total was down from the 10 percent average growth in the first quarter of this year.
Benchmark crude for July delivery fell $2.40 to settle at $97.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In other Nymex contracts for June, heating oil dropped 7.12 cents to settle at $2.8471 per gallon, gasoline rose 0.23 cent to $2.9381 a gallon and natural gas gained 10.3 cents to $4.393 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Grains and beans fell.
In contracts for July delivery, wheat fell 3.5 cents to settle at $8.03 a bushel, corn dropped 5.5 cents to $7.54 a bushel and soybeans fell 6.5 cents to $13.7375 a bushel.