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Copper Futures Dive as Higher Rates Cloud Demand Outlook

February 1, 1995

Copper futures prices crumpled to a two-month low Wednesday as robust demand forecasts were clouded by rising U.S. interest rates, Mexico’s financial woes, the Japanese earthquake and escalating Russian warfare.

The turmoil in key locations has prompted a growing number of observers to rethink their demand projections for basic industrial commodities.

The Mexican money crisis ``has reminded a lot of people that you can’t just take demand for granted. You can’t extrapolate the demand curve out into the future,″ said William Byers, director of futures research at Bear Stearns & Co.

Cotton futures also fell sharply and soybean meal reached its lowest level in nearly eight years. The Commodity Research Bureau’s index of 21 commodities fell 0.36 point to 232.42.

Copper for February delivery fell 4.7 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange to $1.331 a pound, the lowest daily settlement for near-term deliveries since Nov. 28.

Copper had been trading near a six-year high on speculative buying fed by forecasts for strong global demand from major industrialized nations and developing countries.

Investment funds led Wednesday’s sell-off. Sell orders accelerated after the Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates by one-half of a percentage point _ the seventh increase in the past year _ in hopes of slowing the U.S. economy to reduce inflationary pressures.

``The interest rate story is particularly negative for copper,″ said Bette Raptopoulos, metals analyst with Prudential Securities Inc. ``It depresses the major copper-consuming industries, such as housing and automobiles.″

She said the Mexican financial collapse has made investors leery of putting money into developing nations, while the Japanese earthquake and Russian-Chechen struggle may have negative implications for economic growth in those nations.

``I think we’re at a point,″ she said, ``where we’re saying, `Is all this going to have an impact on the global economy?‴

Byers said the same question has prompted recent declines in sugar, cotton, aluminum and other commodities that rallied strongly in late 1994 on rosy demand projections.

``One by one, these markets have experienced some downside pressure, which I think was essentially profit-taking, which in turn acts like a snowball,″ he said. ``As the market comes down, the trend followers sell more and more and more and more.″

March cotton deliveries sank 1.37 cents to 92.10 cents on the New York Cotton Exchange, extending their decline from the 14-year high of 94.70 cents posted Monday.

``Once you reach certain levels, people are prone to say, `Well, we’ve reached our objective, let’s take profits,″ said David Branden, cotton specialist with Smith Barney Inc. in Memphis, Tenn.

Soybean meal futures prices dropped to their lowest level in almost eight years on the Chicago Board of Trade as speculators bet on a huge Brazilian soybean harvest.

Soybean, wheat and oat futures also retreated. Corn futures rose modestly.

Many analysts expect Brazil’s 1995 soybean crop to exceed last year’s record production of 24.5 million metric tons. The harvest, which begins this month, will put additional supplies of meal onto a world market already burdened with abundant supplies from the record 1994 U.S. crop.

``With what looks like a record Brazilian crop coming on stream, it’s going to create significant competition for the U.S.,″ said grain analyst Dale Gustafson of Smith Barney Inc.

Soybean meal for March delivery fell $1.70 to $154.50 a ton, the lowest daily settlement for near-term deliveries since April 23, 1987.

Wheat for March delivery ended 3 cents lower at $3.70 1/2 a bushel; March corn rose 1 1/2 cents to $2.31 a bushel; March oats slipped 1 3/4 cents to $1.20 a bushel; March soybeans fell 1 cent to $5.46 1/2 a bushel.

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