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Freeport-McMoRan ( FCX) shares jumped 44% last month as optimistic investors pounced on signs of a potential economic recovery. But they will probably have to wait at least a year to see sustained gains.

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Weak earnings, stock volatility and shaky demand continue to challenge the world's largest publicly traded copper producer. Last month, Macquarie Bank cut its 2010 price forecast for copper by 10% to $1.80 a pound. That's a 9% decline from yesterday's closing price of $1.97 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Still, UBS Investment Research raised its earnings forecast for Freeport for this year and 2010, and boosted its price target to $49 on Thursday. The Phoenix-based company's shares rallied 9% that day, but that excitement might be short-lived as economic deterioration poses obstacles to metal and mining companies this year.

Demand for copper in China, the No. 1 consumer of copper in the world, has grown faster than any other major region of the world in recent years, according to the International Wrought Copper Council. In February, the country imported a record 329,000 tons of copper.

To be sure, the second-largest user of copper is the U.S., whose auto and homebuilding industries continue to struggle. Sales at General Motors ( GM), Ford ( F) and Chrysler dropped more than 39% in March. The average American car uses 55 pounds of copper, according to the Copper Development Association, and industry trade group.

Homebuilders put 439 pounds of copper into the average single-family home. February housing starts rose 22% from January, but were down 47% from the year-earlier period.

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