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Oil, metal prices mostly drop on Italy, US political strains

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Commodity prices mostly slid this week on worsening economic sentiment caused by political deadlock in indebted eurozone nation Italy and as the United States braces for $85 billion in budget cuts.

Italian leftist Pier Luigi Bersani on Friday held out the prospect of forming a minority government but was turned down by the rogue party whose votes he most needs, after elections early this week that shocked Europe.

In the United States, President Barack Obama on Friday summoned congressional leaders but the talks were more for the sake of appearances rather than a deadline day bid to avert a damaging $85 billion in arbitrary budget cuts.

Obama was bound by law to initiate the automatic, indiscriminate cuts, which could wound the already fragile economy, cost a million jobs and harm military readiness, by 11.59 pm in the absence of an alternative deficit cutting agreement.

OIL: World crude prices reached multi-week low points as traders sought safety amid political turmoil in Italy, mixed economic data out of the United States and China, and as dealers eyed huge US spending cuts that kicked in on Friday.

New York crude oil on Friday sank to $90.29 a barrel -- the lowest level since the end of 2012.

At the same time, Brent North Sea crude reached a six-week low at $109.82.

"There is no fundamental justification for the price slide on the oil market, which appears to be sentiment-driven," said Commerzbank commodities analyst Carsten Fritsch.

Gary Hornby, an analyst at Inenco energy consultants noted: "Prices have dropped due to the bleaker economic outlook."

He added: "Political uncertainty in Italy, where the media are calling the country ungovernable, has resurrected concerns over the eurozone debt crisis. In addition, US economic concerns persist."

Hornby told AFP: "Due to the recent hike in US oil production and lower forecasts for American GDP growth this year, many in the market expect that the excess oil being produced may not find buyers in the market, a fact compounded by six straight weekly gains in US oil stockpiles, which are close to record levels."

The United States is the world's biggest consumer of crude oil, while China -- which reported weaker manufacturing data on Friday -- is the largest overall energy user.

By Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in April slid to $110.35 a barrel from $114.19 a week earlier.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for April dropped to $90.60 a barrel compared with $93.02.

PRECIOUS METALS: The price of gold recovered from seven-month lows of under $1,600 an ounce struck the previous week after US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed's stimulus programme would continue.

Gold is seen as a good hedge against inflation, while stimulating the economy with new cash can push up inflation and weaken the dollar, according to experts.

A weaker US unit makes commodities priced in the greenback cheaper for holders of other currencies, pushing up demand. Gold is also seen as a safe haven in times of economic unrest.

More US stimulus, known as quantitative easing (QE), "will eventually translate into US dollar weakening and a rebound in inflation expectations, both of which are positive for the gold price," said BNP Paribas analyst Anne-Laure Tremblay.

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, the price of gold edged up to $1,582.25 an ounce from $1,576.50 a week earlier.

Silver dropped to $28.01 an ounce from $28.79.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum fell to $1,579 an ounce from $1,611.

Palladium slipped to $721 an ounce from $732.

BASE METALS: Base metal prices mostly dropped, gaining "little support from mostly positive US data and reassurance from Bernanke" on stimulus, said BNP Paribas analyst Stephen Briggs.

By late Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months slid to $7,722 a tonne from $7,808 a week earlier.

Three-month aluminium dropped to $1,964 a tonne from $2,049.

Three-month lead fell to $2,247 a tonne from $2,316.

Three-month tin grew to $23,235 a tonne from $23,190.

Three-month nickel slipped to $16,700 a tonne from $16,734.

Three-month zinc retreated to $2,027 a tonne from $2,088.

COCOA: Cocoa futures fell on a high supply situation in main producer Ivory Coast.

"The plentiful supply is weighing on the price," said analyst Fritsch. "Exporters estimate that 904 thousand tonnes of cocoa have so far been transported to the ports of Ivory Coast since the harvest season began in October, only slightly down on the same period last year."

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in May dipped to £1,430 a tonne from £1,434 a week earlier.

On New York's NYBOT-ICE exchange, cocoa for May dropped to $2,127 a tonne from $2,147.

COFFEE: Coffee futures rose after thousands of Colombian coffee growers staged protests around the country to press for more government support in the face of low prices.

Prices were winning support also from supply concerns as a tree fungus in Central America ravages crops. Leaf rust has caused coffee trees to produce fewer and lower-quality beans.

By Friday on LIFFE, Robusta for May delivery grew to $2,107 a tonne from $2,090 a week earlier.

On NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for delivery in May rose to 143.65 US cents a pound from 143.15 cents.

SUGAR: Prices climbed on expectations of higher production of ethanol, a cheaper alternative to gasoline that is made using sugar, analysts said.

By Friday on LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in May climbed to $520.40 from $501.90 a week earlier.

On NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for May increased to 18.34 US cents a pound from 18.05 cents.

RUBBER: Prices extended recent losses on renewed uncertainty over the eurozone debt crisis and news of record high stockpiles in China, traders said.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 dropped to 289.00 US cents a kilo from 292.40 cents the previous week.

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