LONDON: Copper prices slipped on Friday, dragged lower by increased supplies and lacklustre demand from top consumer China, with the metal on track to post its biggest weekly drop in three weeks.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) was down 0.2 percent at $6,987 a tonne at 0943 GMT.
Buoyant exports from China pushed its trade surplus to a record last month, fuelling optimism that global demand will help counter pressure on the domestic economy from a weakening property sector.
The country's copper arrivals, however, fell 2.9 percent month-on-month in July, falling for a third straight month, after small importers delayed term refined metal shipments.
The metal used in power and construction is down 1.5 percent so far this week, on track to post its steepest weekly fall since mid-July. It sank to a five-week low on Wednesday at $6,951.75 a tonne.
"The Chinese import number is punching the copper prices lower, and given that we have a war of sanctions between Russia and the West, it can only translate as weakness for copper demand," said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade.
In the latest development in Ukraine, the head of NATO urged Russia to "step back from the brink" of war by pulling its troops back from the Ukrainian border.
Freeport-McMoRan Inc's Indonesia unit has completed its first copper concentrate export shipment since the country's introduction of new mining rules, a spokeswoman said, signalling the end of a seven-month tax spat with the government.
The resumption of Freeport's shipments flags a trend of improving mine supply that is expected to free up feed for smelters and tip the metal into a surplus after years of deficit.
"Supply is going to increase gradually throughout the second half, because many smelters already had maintenance shutdowns in the first half, so we believe that their performance will be better," said analyst Li Chunlan at consultancy CRU in Beijing.
"Overall, demand might have a seasonal pick-up from September, but year-on-year it will be steady ... I don't think there will be a strong demand recovery going forward because of sliding real estate investment, sales and prices."
The copper market is expected to be in a 226,000-tonne surplus by the end of 2014, a Reuters poll in July showed, with the surplus seen rising to 285,000 tonnes in 2015.
Bonded copper stocks in China have fallen to 660,000 tonnes, from 815,000 tonnes at the end of May, in part because suspected metals fraud in China's Qingdao port has made it more difficult for traders to finance stock, Li said.
In other metals, benchmark nickel fell 0.6 percent to $18,799 a tonne, slipping back after rallying to a 1-1/2-week high on Thursday on supply worries that have flared this year after a ban on Indonesian ore exports took effect in January.