Commodity prices mainly retreat

Commodity prices mostly weakened this week, hit by a stronger dollar and falling demand for raw materials amid persistent concerns about the state of the troubled global economy, according to analysts.

Figures published Wednesday revealed that the dogged recession across the eurozone has snared key economy France.

In Brussels, French President Francois Hollande tipped 'zero' growth on the national level, blaming an EU-wide, German-led austerity trap -- and hitting out at banks for holding back on lending.

OIL: Crude futures won late support from talk of a potential scaling back of US stimulus measures despite a stronger dollar making crude more expensive for holders of rival currencies, analysts said.

Markets also shrugged off disappointing US economic data, as speculation is increasing that the Federal Reserve is mulling an exit to its quantitative easing (QE) stimulus policy.

Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President John Williams this week said he was open to scaling back the Fed's bond-buying programme in the coming months if the economy continued to improve.

Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser had already hinted at a potential tapering out of the US central bank's QE stimulus.

Such movement has given a lift to the dollar, at a time when US economic data has returned poor figures.

"The market has taken fright at those worse-than-expected numbers," David Lennox, resource analyst at Fat Prophets in Sydney, told AFP.

"Poor employment data (Thursday) from the US has sent ripples through the market, with dealers being concerned over its impact on oil demand."

New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits jumped sharply to 360,000 in the week ending May 11, after coming in unexpectedly low for several weeks, the US Labor Department said.

Initial jobless claims, a sign of the pace of layoffs, was up 32,000 from the previous week's revised figure.

Separate data showed that construction of new homes in the United States slowed sharply in April following a March surge.

On Wednesday meanwhile, oil prices recovered from sharp early losses to finish higher on news that US stockpiles had eased from record levels.

US crude stocks fell by 600,000 barrels last week, suggesting a slightly tighter market.

Stocks nevertheless remained high at 394.9 million barrels, and worries of soft global demand amid rising supplies continued to cast a shadow over the markets.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last week boosted production to 30.21 million barrels a day in April from 29.93 million in March.

By Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in July stood at $104.47 a barrel compared with $102.42 for the expired June contract a week earlier.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for June grew to $95.64 a barrel from $94.25.

PRECIOUS METALS: Prices slid further as traders continued to switch money into equities.

"Gold prices continue to come under pressure and look set to test $1,300 as more high profile investors pared back their holdings of the yellow metal," noted Michael Hewson, analyst at CMC Markets trading group.

"With inflation falling back across the globe a lot of investors are winding back their gold exposure and putting their cash to work in higher yielding and more risky assets like equities and peripheral sovereign bonds. Silver prices are also coming under increasing pressure," he added.

Elsewhere, India's central bank on Wednesday said that it would launch inflation-linked bonds to try to break the country's love affair with gold and narrow the ballooning current account deficit.

India's inflation rate has been uncomfortably high for a number of years, prompting savers to seek shelter in gold.

Many Indians -- especially in rural areas where there are few banks -- buy gold in the form of jewellery, bars and coins as a hedge against inflation and India is the world's largest purchaser of gold, importing some 900 tonnes.

Indians also buy gold for important religious ceremonies and for weddings.

But the bullion imports are one of the main contributors to the deficit in the current account -- the broadest measure of trade -- that the central bank has described as the biggest risk "by far" to the economy.

Platinum was also in focus this week, as workers at Anglo American Platinum prepared to strike in protest at plans to cut 6,000 jobs at the firm's South African operations.

News of the planned strike at the firm, which accounts for almost 40 percent of global platinum production, saw its shares slide over four percent on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Mines in the region have been hit by a series of wildcat strikes, go-slows and clashes between established and more militant up-and-coming unions.

Platinum production last year sank by 13 percent, hitting a 12-year low on the unrest in South Africa, but output is forecast to recover slightly in 2013, industrials group Johnson Matthey forecast on Monday.

Sister metal palladium saw its price grow this week on worries over tight supplies, traders said.

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, the price of gold slid to $1,368.75 an ounce from $1,426.50 a week earlier.

Silver dropped to $22.52 an ounce from $23.37.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum fell to $1,470 an ounce from $1,490.

Palladium rose to $736 an ounce from $702.

BASE METALS: Base or industrial metal prices mostly declined.

"There does not seem to be any kind of spark to lift metals higher, at least for now," said Ed Meir, analyst at INTL FCStone.

"One possible trigger could come out of Europe if and when policymakers indicate that they may consider policies that would stimulate more growth, including such 'radical' ideas as tax cuts, targeted stimulus spending, expanding deficit reduction timelines, and making credit more available to small businesses and, perhaps most importantly, deliberately weakening the euro," he added in a note to clients.

By Friday on the London Metal Exchange (LME), copper for delivery in three months fell to $7,330 a tonne from $7,375 a week earlier.

Three-month aluminium dropped to $1,857 a tonne from $1,870.

Three-month lead rose to $2,008 a tonne from $1,996.

Three-month tin grew to $20,940 a tonne from $20,849.

Three-month nickel retreated to $14,830 a tonne from $15,415.

Three-month zinc slipped to $1,841 a tonne from $1,865.

COCOA: The market drifted lower .

"Cocoa contracts on the ICE US trading platform lost ground... with another sign suggesting that economic growth in the eurozone is slowing, helping to fuel the downside," said commodities magazine The Public Ledger.

"General firmness in the US dollar during the same time frame also did not do the commodity any favours," it added.

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in July eased to £1,530 a tonne from £1,536 a week earlier.

On New York's NYBOT-ICE exchange, cocoa for July dipped to $2,294 a tonne from $2,325.

COFFEE: Coffee futures experienced mixed fortunes.

"So far, the damage caused to crops by the Roya fungus in Central America has not resulted in higher prices, despite the fact that the disease is currently ravaging the region more severely than ever before," said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for delivery in July slid to 140.50 US cents a pound from 147.15 cents a week earlier.

On LIFFE, Robusta for July rose to $2,042 a tonne from $2,039.

SUGAR: Prices tumbled close to three-year low points, hit once again by expectations of surpluses in major producers.

"Futures closed lower and made new lows for the move on reports of big production in April from Brazil," said analyst Jack Scoville at Price Group.

By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for delivery in July dropped to 16.94 US cents a pound from 17.58 cents a week earlier.

On LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for August dipped to $477.90 from $488.30.

GRAINS AND SOYA: Soya and maize prices rose, while wheat declined.

By Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade, July-dated soyabean meal -- used in animal feed -- increased to $14.33 a bushel from $13.99 a week earlier.

Maize for delivery in July climbed to $6.52 a bushel from $6.36.

Wheat for July decreased to $6.85 a bushel from $7.04.

RUBBER: Prices eased despite a tight supply situation.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 fell to 246.10 US cents a kilo from 261.35 cents the previous week.