Aluminium prices hit four-year lows as worries about prolonged shutdowns around the world due to the coronavirus reinforced fears of a deep recession and tumbling demand for industrial metals.

Benchmark aluminium on the London Metal Exchange was down 1.1 per cent at $US1,529 a tonne overnight.

Prices of the metal used widely in transport and packaging earlier touched $US1,526.50, the lowest since April 2016.

“The aluminium surplus is going to be significantly higher than people think,” a commodity trader said.

“The auto industry has been hit particularly hard.”

Metals came under further pressure after US President Donald Trump extended his stay-at-home guidelines until the end of April, dropping a plan to get the economy up and running by mid-April.

“We don’t know how big the dent to demand will be or how long the lockdowns will go on for,” said Julius Baer analyst Carsten Menke.

“This is what the market is reflecting.”

Vehicle sales in China, the world’s biggest car market, tumbled in February as customers stayed at home. Automakers are halting production at plants across Europe and the United States.

Plummeting aluminium prices due to the impact of the pandemic on demand are unlikely to persuade producers to immediately cut output as input costs have also fallen, leaving the market with massive surpluses.

Market surpluses are expected to make their way to exchange warehouses, which have already seen more deliveries of aluminium.

Aluminium stocks in LME-approved warehouses, at 1.15 million tonnes, have climbed nearly 20 per cent since March 17.

Stocks of the metal in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange fell 5,922 tonnes last week to 528,072 tonnes, but that is still up from below 190,000 tonnes at the start of the year.

However, analysts expect deliveries to ShFE warehouses to rise further over coming weeks.

Data from Marex Spectron shows the net speculative short position rose to 47 per cent of open interest or 260,000 tonnes as of last Thursday.

“This is the largest short seen in aluminium since July 2012, on our estimates. That year the short peaked at 67 per cent of open interest,” Marex said in a note.

Industrial metals also came under pressure from a stronger US currency, which when it rises makes dollar-denominated commodities more expensive for holders of other currencies.

Copper was down 0.4 per cent at $US4,773, zinc fell 0.3 per cent to $US1,873, lead gained 0.2 per cent to $US1,707, tin added 0.5 per cent to $US14,335 and nickel ceded 0.3 per cent to $US11,315 a tonne.

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