LONDON (Reuters) - Analysts have marked down this year’s forecasts for copper and other industrial metals prices in recent months as top consumer China struggles to revive its economy, a Reuters poll showed.
The London Metal Exchange index of six base metals has shed 7% since its late February peak, weighed down by a downturn in China, U.S.-China trade tensions and worries about the global economy.
The LME cash copper price is expected to average $6,291 a tonne in the fourth quarter of this year, a median forecast of 26 analysts shows.
That is a downgrade of 5.4% from the consensus estimate in the previous poll in May, but 4.9% higher than Monday’s close.
“We expect a stabilisation of the Chinese economy rather than an acceleration, suggesting that metals demand should be sufficiently solid to support prices but not strong enough to push them higher,” said analyst Carsten Menke at Julius Baer in Zurich.
Analysts trimmed their expectations of a copper market deficit in 2019 to 178,000 tonnes from their previous consensus forecast of 205,500 tonnes.
Nickel, the best performing base metal so far this year with gains of 34%, saw a heated rally during much of July as China’s Tsingshan went on a buying spree and speculators also piled in.
The rally has since pulled back from the highs and many analysts believe the market will retrace further because the gains were not fully supported by supply/demand fundamentals.
The LME cash price of nickel, which is mainly used to make stainless steel, is expected to average $12,738 a tonne in the fourth quarter, down 11% from Monday’s close.
“We see prices falling from here owing to short-term profit taking, moderately slowing Chinese stainless production, and more supply growth from NPI (nickel pig iron),” Citi analyst Oliver Nugent said in a note.
The global nickel market is expected to have a deficit of 19,500 tonnes this year, less than half of the 47,000-tonne shortfall seen in the last poll.
The aluminium price has been the second worst performer on the LME so far this year, weighed down by exports from China, analysts said.
Shipments from top producer China grew 10% during the first half of the year, running at annual rate of about 6 million tonnes, and analysts expect further exports in the second half to weigh on prices.
“China’s aluminium exports in this year... (are) the main reason for depressed aluminium prices,” said consultant Goran Djukanovic.
Analysts expect cash LME aluminium to average $1,850 a tonne in the final quarter of the year, having marked down their forecast by 7.1% since the last poll.
They also cut their forecasts for a global aluminium deficit this year to 550,000 tonnes from 868,240 tonnes in the May poll.
Zinc mine production has been ramping up, but bottlenecks have prevented all of the ore from being processed into refined metal, keeping the market relatively tight.
Many analysts believe problems at smelters are being solved, raising the prospect of more metal being produced and weighing on prices.
“Higher mine output will gradually translate into higher refined output, easing the current market tightness,” said analyst Daniela Corsini at Intesa Sanpaolo Bank in Milan.
Analysts have shaved their fourth quarter forecast for cash LME zinc by 7.3% since the last poll to $2,465 a tonne, which is 0.9% down from the latest closing price.
The zinc market is expected to have a deficit of 75,000 tonnes this year, according to the most recent consensus estimate, instead of a surplus of 20,000 tonnes as in the previous poll.
Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Jan Harvey