Copper Gains on China Import Data

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Copper futures were getting a boost from improved Chinese March import data.

Copper for May delivery was rising 0.3% to $4.3175 a pound.

"On the metals side, the more detailed breakdown of Chinese March import data was encouraging in that there were broad-based rebounds noted in a number of import categories," said MF Global analyst Ed Meir. However, the extent of the bounce may have been disappointing for some, he noted.

China's refined copper imports rose 21.5% over February levels, but that didn't entirely offset February's decline of 36%.

Also, copper exports gained steam. About 37,000 tons of the metal were exported in March, a 20-fold rise over last year. This is "indicative of soft conditions in the local market," Meir noted.

Morgan Stanley Research Europe said Tuesday that it's reducing its overweight position in commodities to 4% from 6% by taking materials down to neutral from 2% overweight ahead of the expected end of the second round of quantitative easing in the U.S. in June. The team explains that commodity prices have been a key beneficiary of quantitative easing. The end of the program would result in some price pressure.

Copper giant Southern Copper Corporation ( SCCO) was falling 0.7% to $36.10, while peer Freeport-McMoRan ( FCX) was rising 1.8% to $55.76. Copper fabricator Encore Wire ( WIRE) was rising 1.8% to $25.33.

Ethanol was rising 0.8% to $2.661 a gallon for the June contract amid concern that high corn costs will impede production and a routine shutdown of plants. Corn futures are up more than 90% year-to-date on strong fundamentals.

"Just like gas, when the plants shut down we see a increase in price for ethanol," said PFG Best Senior Research Analyst Phil Flynn.

Still, fuel blenders have a good amount of ethanol inventory built up already and don't need much more ethanol for now, says MaxYield Cooperative analyst Karl Setzer. Meanwhile, plants are running at 97% of capacity as they take their annual maintenance shutdown. The plants expect to produce the biofuel at a reduced rate once they reopen, as the the producers works through cheaper, previously-booked, lower-valued corn, said Setzer.

Oil and gas giant Chevron ( CVX), a buyer and blender of ethanol, was rising 0.9% to $108.34. Royal Dutch Shell ( RDS.A), an ethanol producer, was up 0.6% to $75.53. Pacific Ethanol ( PEIX) was popping 5.7% to 50 cents. Another ethanol play, The Andersons ( ANDE), was up 2.5% to $49.58.

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-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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