Copper prices slipped and aluminium carved out a four-year low on worries about an extended erosion in global demand for metals due to the coronavirus pandemic after dire US employment data.

Traders and fund managers have been concerned about sliding metals demand as industry shuts down in many areas, while trying to balance that against weaker production because of mine closures.

“There are so many multiples of unknowns right now and the market is trying to digest all that,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank in Copenhagen.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 1.0 per cent to $US4,847 a tonne on Friday, holding well above a four-year low of $US4,371 touched about two weeks ago.

On a weekly basis, London copper was on track for a rise of about 1.2 per cent, its first gain in six weeks, after better than expected factory data from China boosted prices earlier in the week.

“Copper has taken a lot of bad news on the chin without seeing renewed weakness, so I have the feeling that, unless we see significant renewed stock market falls, copper is on track to challenge the psychological $US5,000 level,” Hansen said.

Low copper prices and lockdowns at major suppliers have raised concerns over supply disruptions of copper, used widely in construction, power and manufacturing.

The outlook for industrial metals demand, however, remains grim after the coronavirus pandemic surpassed one million cases globally and data showed the U.S. economy shed 701,000 jobs in March, seven times the forecasted drop.

The net speculative short position in LME aluminium had grown to 54 per cent of open interest by Tuesday, the highest since July 2012, according to estimates by broker Marex Spectron.

LME aluminium lost 0.4 per cent to $US1,484.50 a tonne after hitting $US1,479.50, the weakest since March 2016.

Lead inventories monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange fell for a sixth straight week to a 28-month low as buyers sought stocks in exchange warehouses because of a lack of recycled metal in China, data released on Friday showed.

That data, however, failed to help LME lead prices, which slid 2.4 per cent to $US1,657 a tonne.

LME tin fell 1.7 per cent to $US14,135 a tonne after LME inventories jumped 24 per cent to 7,590 tonnes, their highest since February. 26, according to daily LME data.

Miner Rio Tinto said it could not supply contracted copper to customers after an emergency shutdown at its Kennecott smelter in the United States following an earthquake last month.

Nickel slipped 0.8 per cent to $US11,225 a tonne and zinc shed 0.4 per cent to $US1,880.

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