US copper buyers face world’s highest prices as demand booms


UNITED States copper buyers are paying the world’s highest prices for the metal as soaring demand and logistical bottleneck­s send New York futures surging ahead of contracts in London and Shanghai.

Copper futures for September delivery on the Comex have been trading at a premium to those for December since Friday in a condition called backwardat­ion that suggests tight near-term supplies and rising demand. It’s the only main exchange where the metal is trading in backwardat­ion right now, and inventorie­s at warehouses tracked by the bourse have been declining since early April.

As a result, a New York trader was paying over $250 a metric ton more for Comex copper than the metal traded on the London Metal Exchange on Tuesday, the widest since 2011. The New York price is also higher than in China, excluding a value-added tax on Shanghai purchases.

The premium underscore­s investor assessment­s of diverging outlooks for the regions. Commoditie­s from copper to steel have posted big gains this year, partly on bets that massive US government spending to rebuild infrastruc­ture will boost demand. Pandemic-triggered supply-chain woes have also helped lift prices. Meanwhile, Europe has been slower to recover from the pandemic, while concerns over China’s efforts to rein in inflation have clouded prospects for commodity gains there.

“At the root of it all is the friction in global trade, but it’s also a reflection of the fact that demand is strong. It genuinely looks like a tight market,” said Oliver Nugent, an analyst at Citigroup Inc. “If you look outside of the LME, and you look at the US and even at China, you can see that they’re moving in the right direction.”

The tightness in the US market is in contrast with the situation on the London Metal Exchange. LME copper cash contracts are trading at a discount to futures contracts, while stocks tracked by LME warehouses have been on the rise since the beginning of June.

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