METALS-Copper touches fresh peak near 2012 highs in thin trade on recovery hopes

(Updates prices)

LONDON, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Copper prices briefly touched their highest level since 2012 on Tuesday, extending a bull run driven by optimism over Chinese demand and global economic recovery, before pulling back in thin trade.

Tuesday is the third successive session that LME copper has hit fresh multi-year peaks, having rallied by 93% since March last year.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange had edged up 0.2% to $8,407.50 a tonne by 1700 GMT after hitting $8,437, its strongest level since May 2012.

Trading was light as mainland Chinese markets are closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until Wednesday.

Some investors see current high prices as the start of a new bull market, but analyst Carsten Menke at Julius Baer in Zurich is wary.

“We’re not jumping on this supercycle train, which seems to have already left the station,” he said.

One justification for the latest surge in prices is that lockdown restrictions in China mean many people are not travelling and factories are staying busy.

“This has added another leg to the bull narrative, but in the end this will just be pulling forward demand and production, which would happen anyway at a later stage.”

China’s transition from an investment-driven economy to one focused on consumption will mean less metals-intensive growth going forward, Menke added.

* Helping support metals, a weaker dollar index hit a three-week low, making greenback-priced metals cheaper for buyers using other currencies.

* For calendar 2021, Chinese demand is expected to be roughly 5% higher than in calendar 2019, but supply constraints remain in pandemic-hit Chile and Peru, the world’s two largest exporters of primary copper, mining company BHP Group BHP said.

* Aluminium was little changed at $2,084 a tonne, after hitting an eight-week high of $2,095.50 on Monday. Zinc shed 0.2% to $2,837.50 and lead dipped 0.7% to $2,108.

Nickel climbed 0.8% to $18,780 after hitting $18,840, its best level since September 2019, while tin lost 0.9% to $24,160. (Reporting by Eric Onstad in London Additional reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz in Manila Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis)