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METALS-Copper prices fall on stronger dollar, weak Chinese demand

(Updates prices)

LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Copper prices fell on Thursday as the U.S. dollar strengthened and demand in top consumer China remained slack after the Lunar New Year holiday.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) was down 0.5% at $9,041 a tonne at 1726 GMT and down 2.4% this week.

Copper surged from around $7,500 a tonne in November to $9,550.50 on Jan. 18 on hopes demand in China would revive after it lifted COVID-19 controls and amidst a rapid weakening of the U.S. currency, which made dollar-priced metals cheaper for many buyers.

However, Chinese consumption shows little sign of improving yet. Import premiums are falling and Shanghai exchange inventories increasing rapidly.

"Short term, I think you have to be moderately bearish (on copper)," said Dan Smith, head of research at Amalgamated Metals Trading.

But he said investors should buy the dips and forecast that prices would end the year above $10,000 a tonne.

"China's going to come back strongly; we just haven't felt it yet," he said, adding that the weakening dollar and supply issues were also supportive for prices.

Speculators are certainly betting on higher prices, with their net long position in COMEX copper futures jumping to the largest since April.

Some $14 billion flowed into industrial metals markets between Jan. 1 and Jan. 27, with $3.5 billion arriving during China's New Year holiday, JPMorgan estimated.

The latest supply disruption has come in Peru, where the huge Las Bambas copper mine was set to halt production because of road blockades by protesters.

The dollar and global stock markets rose.

Investor attention is now focused on U.S. non-farm employment data on Friday, which could influence U.S. interest rate policy and the dollar.

LME aluminium was down 0.5% at $2,618.50 a tonne.

Other industrial metals rose, with zinc up 0.2% at $3,355, nickel rising 1.8% to $29,835, lead adding 0.1% to $2,140.50 and tin up 1% at $29,090. (Reporting by Peter Hobson; Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in Hanoi; Editing by David Goodman, Sharon Singleton)

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