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Metals, oil fall on European debt, China's economy

By Sandy Shore
AP Business Writer / April 23, 2012
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Most commodity prices fell Monday because of troubling news about Europe's debt and the pace of manufacturing in China.

Investors worried that the challenges faced by the two regions could hurt the global economy, which would slow demand for commodities. Prices for gold, copper, silver, oil and soybeans fell.

In Europe, a combined purchasing managers' index of the manufacturing and services sector fell in April to 47.4 points from 49.1 points in March, according to Markit. A purchasing manager's index for Germany's manufacturing sector hit a five-month low in April.

A second report showed that government debt continued to build in European countries despite severe budget cuts.

There also were signs of political uncertainty after French President Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round of a presidential election to Socialist Francois Hollande, who is a critic of using austerity measures to solve the region's financial problems. A runoff is set for May 6.

Separately, a survey by HSBC found that China's manufacturing sector improved in April but remained below a reading that would indicate expansion. China can be an indicator of demand for commodities because it is a huge importer of raw materials such as copper, oil and soybeans.

The uncertainty about what's next for the global economy could drive prices lower, INTL FC Stone analyst Edward Meir said. "I think we're going to continue to sell off in most of these commodities going into May," he said.

The decline in commodity prices mirrored a similar pullback in U.S. stock markets. U.S. Treasury prices rose and the dollar strengthened. Commodities are priced in dollars so a stronger dollar makes them more expensive for traders who use other currencies such as the euro.

Gold for June delivery fell $10.20 to finish at $1,632.60 an ounce, May copper dropped 7.2 cents to $3.626 per pound, May silver decreased $1.12, or 3.5 percent, to $30.531 per ounce, July platinum declined $27.90 to $1,556.30 an ounce and June palladium ended down $6 at $670.90 an ounce.

Oil prices were mixed. Benchmark oil fell 77 cents to end at $103.11 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Heating oil rose 0.22 cent to end at $3.1398 per gallon, gasoline futures increased 4.46 cents to $3.1873 per gallon and natural gas jumped 8 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $2.007 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In July agricultural contracts, wheat rose 9.5 cents to finish at $6.325 per bushel, corn increased 9.5 cents to $6.125 per bushel and soybeans fell 8.5 cents to $14.41 per bushel.

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