LONDON: Copper prices steadied on Tuesday as encouraging signs from the U.S. economy offset concerns about top consumer China's struggling property sector and the outlook for industrial metals demand.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) traded at $6,905 a tonne in official rings, flat from Monday's close.
U.S. homebuilding stocks rose on Monday, boosted by data that showed homebuilder sentiment rose in August to its highest level since January.
In contrast, China's new home prices fell in July for a third straight month, with price declines spreading to a record number of cities, underlining a worsening property downturn that is increasingly dragging on the broader economy.
The property market is key to copper demand as the metal is mainly used in the power and construction industries.
Analysts said upcoming economic data from the United States and China could give a better picture of the copper demand outlook.
"The metal is heavily dependent on the upcoming data from the U.S. and China, which are both heavy users of metals," said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade.
"Moreover, we also have the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting minutes due tomorrow and as long as the Fed stays accommodative, we could see another push towards the upside for the metal."
U.S. consumer price index figures are due later in the session while in China, manufacturing PMI numbers are due on Thursday.
The market is also looking ahead to Wednesday's release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's July policy meeting, with expectations the Federal Reserve would remain dovish on monetary policy. There could also be comments from a global central banking summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, starting on Thursday.
The positive signs in the U.S. housing market helped the dollar rise against a basket of currencies, keeping a lid on metals prices. A strong dollar makes commodities priced in the U.S. unit more expensive for holders of other currencies.
SUPPLY IN FOCUS
Copper has rebounded from seven-week lows near $6,821 a tonne hit last week but momentum appears to be waning.
Putting pressure on copper prices are expectations that higher supply will push the market into a deep surplus.
The copper market was expected to be in a 226,000 tonne surplus by the end of 2014, a Reuters poll in July showed, rising to 285,000 tonnes in 2015.
While many analysts expect fresh mine supply to feed into the market later this year, Morgan Stanley said a flood of new supply was unlikely.
"We think copper will continue to remain fairly tight ... supply growth essentially matches demand growth this year," said analyst Joel Crane of Morgan Stanley in Melbourne.
Copper has fallen towards the lower end of its $6,800-$7,200 range, but was set to trend up again towards year end, he said.
Aluminium's forward curve is showing increasing signs of supply stress, with cash trading on Monday at its closest to parity against the benchmark since December 2012.
Benchmark aluminium, untraded in official rings, was bid at $2,037, was up 1 percent.
In industry news, the world's biggest mining company, BHP Billiton , announced plans to spin off businesses worth an estimated $16 billion, most of them acquired in its 2001 merger with Billiton, to focus on its most profitable activities.
Zinc, untraded in rings, was bid at $2,313, up 1.4 percent, lead, also untraded, was bid at $2,231.50, up 0.7 percent and tin, untraded, was bid at $$22,375, down 0.2 percent.
Nickel traded at $18,580, up 0.5 percent.