Copper prices were slipping Tuesday amid lackluster data on the housing market.

Benchmark contracts for copper were shedding 4 cents at $3.38 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The PowerShares DB Base Metals ( DBB - Get Report) exchange-traded fund, which tracks prices of industrial metals, was losing 1.2%, in recent action.

The Census Bureau reported a drop in the number of new dwellings being built during May and revised down figures for the prior month. But applications to build new houses unexpectedly jumped.

Copper is an essential part of the construction of new buildings, where it is used for electrical wiring. So news of continued weakness in the sector will not have helped the outlook for the price of the metal.

Still, some say the overall dampening effect on the economy may be starting to wane.

"The most important concept is that construction activity is beginning to be a smaller drag on GDP," writes Randy Diamond, an analyst at Miller Tabak in New York.

Elsewhere, Stifel Nicolaus ratcheted down its rating on shares of copper-molybdenum miner Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold ( FCX - Get Report) to hold from buy. The shares were down 1% recently.

As for the precious metals, silver was off 4 cents at $13.20 an ounce, while gold was easing 30 cents to $659.60 an ounce in recent action.

In the mining patch, UBS boosted shares of Golden Star Resources ( GSS - Get Report) to a neutral rating from reduce, while CIBC World Markets trimmed its stock price target on shares of Agnico-Eagle Mines ( AEM - Get Report) to $45 from $50.

Shares of Agnico-Eagle were up 0.3% at $36.91, while those of Golden Star were rallying about 3.6% at $3.76 in morning action.

Elsewhere, sugar prices were sliding on concerns that supplies of the commodity would remain abundant. Futures contracts were losing 1.8% at 9.4 cents a pound.

Wheat prices were off almost 1.7% at $6.07 a bushel as favorable weather conditions looked set to increase crop yields.