Copper fell overnight on a stronger US dollar and worries about a global slowdown while lead touched its lowest in more than three months on concern that weak car sales would dampen demand for vehicle batteries.
The decline in copper came after the European Central Bank on Wednesday highlighted threats to global growth and US President Donald Trump threatened new tariffs on imports from the European Union.
Adding to pressure on metals, the US dollar climbed after US producer prices posted the biggest rise in five months and weekly jobless claims fell to their lowest since 1969.
A stronger US dollar makes metals more expensive to buyers using other currencies.
“Trading recently has been choppy,” said Geordie Wilkes, head of research at Sucden Financial in London.
“It’s pretty hard to have a view with conviction because there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding not only the trade war and the deal we may have, but also global growth.”
The vast majority of lead demand, about 80 per cent, goes to production of batteries, mostly for vehicles.
“We’ve seen some poor automobile numbers over the past few months that could be part of the issue with the lead market at the moment,” said Wilkes.
Benchmark lead, the worst performer on the London Metal Exchange this year, slid 1.4 per cent to $US1,926 a tonne, its lowest since December 18.
LME copper dropped 0.9 per cent to close at $US6,408.
The premium of cash zinc over the three-month contract rose to $US74.50 a tonne, close to the $US76.75 touched two weeks ago, its highest since early January and indicating tight supply.
Refined zinc has been hit by shortages in LME warehouses, but many analysts expect the tightness to ease in coming months as rising mine output flows through to refined material.
Exacerbating the tight conditions, one participant was holding more than half of available LME zinc inventories and short-term futures positions, LME data showed.
Three-month zinc, which has gained 16 per cent this year, finished down 0.3 per cent at $US2,864 a tonne.
Investors appeared to brush off analyst forecasts of supply shortages in the global nickel market and the electric vehicle batteries sector unless Indonesian projects ramp up quickly.
LME nickel was bid down 2.3 per cent to $US12,930.
The United States and China have largely agreed on a mechanism to police any trade agreement they reach, including establishing new “enforcement offices”, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
LME aluminium dipped 0.2 per cent to $US1,860 a tonne after touching a one-month low of $US1,854.
Tin eased by 1.3 per cent to $US20,575, having hit its lowest since January 25 at $US20,490.