May 8, 2019 / 11:18 AM / 2 months ago

METALS-Copper nears three-month low before U.S-China trade talks

* GRAPHIC-2019 asset returns: tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl

* China April trade surprises - exports fall, imports grow

* Focus on U.S-China trade talks (Adds closing prices, adds Nickel outlook)

By Zandi Shabalala

LONDON, May 8 (Reuters) - Copper fell to a near three-month low on Wednesday on concerns over a potential resumption of tit-for-tat trade tariffs between the United States and China ahead of last-ditch negotiations.

U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Friday has raised the risk of an escalation in the spat between Washington and Beijing.

This could further slow the global economy, while clouding the outlook for demand from top metals consumer China.

The two sides will hold last-ditch talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange ended 0.5 percent lower at $6,148 a tonne, after touching its lowest since Feb. 15 at $6,119.

"We are not out of the woods as yet," Saxo Bank analyst Ole Hansen said, adding that volatility could be higher as the world's top economies resume talks.

Hopes that the Chinese government could introduce more stimulus to cushion any softness caused by fallout from the trade dispute supported prices, Hansen said.

"The market is of the belief that some kind of deal is in the interests of both parties but if there is a complete break down we could see some additional weakness," he said.

Meanwhile, China's April trade data painted a mixed picture, with exports shrinking unexpectedly while imports surprised with their first increase in five months.

COPPER IMPORTS: China's unwrought copper imports rose 3.6 percent in April from the previous month, according to data released by the General Administration of Customs on Wednesday, as demand gathered momentum at the start of the peak-consumption second quarter.

ALUMINIUM SMELTER: China's Henan Shenhuo Group commenced construction of an aluminium smelting project with an annual capacity of 900,000 tonnes in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

CHILE: Copper production at Chile's top mines dropped sharply in the first quarter of 2019, Chilean copper commission Cochilco said on Tuesday due to operational issues, heavy rains and falling ore grades at the largest deposits.

NICKEL: Global demand for nickel is expected to increase to 2.46 million tonnes in 2019 versus 2.33 million in 2018, the International Nickel Study Group said.

NORSK: Norsk Hydro's Rolled Products division has for years failed to deliver sufficient profitability, the company's new chief executive told Reuters.

PRICES: LME aluminium was 1 percent softer at $1,797 per tonne at close, zinc eased 1.6 percent to $2,648.50, lead added 1.4 percent to $1,881.50, tin was 0.3 percent higher at $19,425 and nickel was down 1 percent at $11,930.

Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Kirsten Donovan and Alexander Smith

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