A month after an unprecedented squeeze roiled the copper market, a short-term spread is back to normal levels as rising exchange inventories relieve the pressure on buyers.
The spread between spot and three-month contracts on the London Metal Exchange eased to a $32.50-a-ton premium by Monday’s close. While the premium signals that near-term supply is still tight, it’s back in line with levels seen prior to the October squeeze, when the spread surged above $1 100 as buyers were caught off guard by a sudden slump in stockpiles.
Spot contracts often trade at premiums when supply is scarce, in a condition known as backwardation. Rising premiums can spark major losses for industrial hedgers who need to buy back short positions as they approach expiry, as well as bearish investors who need to roll positions forward. The wild moves last month prompted the LME to take emergency measures to restore order.
While some analysts still say there’s a risk of further tightness while global inventories remain low, fears over another imminent squeeze have faded as available LME stockpiles climb from multidecade lows. On-warrant copper inventories rose to 53 175 t on Tuesday, continuing a steady increase from the low set in mid-October.
Major Chinese smelters have pledged to boost stockpiles further by shipping additional copper out to LME warehouses in Asia. In a sign that deliveries may be imminent, LME warehousing company Henry Bath Singapore, owned by major Chinese logistics firm CMST Zhongchu, on Monday listed an additional storage depot in Busan. South Korea and Taiwan are the closest delivery destinations for exporters shipping copper out of Shanghai.
Copper prices have also softened over the past month, as concerns also mounted that a slowdown in key industrial economies will hurt demand. The metal was down 0.4% at $9.634 a ton by 11:24 a.m. on the LME. Other metals were little changed or lower, with aluminum falling 1.3%.