By Emily Chow
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese commodities markets slumped on the first trading day after an extended Lunar New Year break, with several futures contracts hitting downside limits on fears the spread of a new virus will hit demand in the world’s top commodities consumer.
The most-active copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange <SCFcv1>, iron ore <DCIOcv1> on the Dalian Commodity Exchange and crude oil <ISCcv1> on the International Energy Exchange all fell by the maximum daily limit at the open, with copper down 7% and crude oil and iron ore down 8%.
Agricultural products on the Dalian exchange including soyoil <DBYcv1>, palm oil <DCPcv1> and eggs <DJDcv1> also hit limit-down.
(GRAPHIC: China commodity markets tumble as trading resumes after extended New Year break – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/8374/8355/ChinaCommodities.png)
The losses in China followed declines in global markets since Jan. 24 when the Lunar New Year break began, with the virus fears driving down prices in all sectors.
The coronavirus epidemic, which has caused 362 deaths as of Sunday and infected more than 17,000 people in two dozen countries, has been declared an international emergency by the World Health Organization.
Analysts said the epidemic’s impact on commodity prices was greater than during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)outbreak in 2002-2003, which also originated in China and led to nearly 800 deaths.
“China accounts for a much larger share of commodities demand now relative to 2003, if we are benchmarking against the SARS impact. The impact is more acute in terms of how demand plays out,” said Commonwealth Bank of Australia analyst Vivek Dhar.
“The other issue to consider is how long the extended holidays will take place… For physical markets, restocking demand is very weak. That plays a bigger role in physically-driven markets like iron ore and coal,” he said.
While financial markets reopened on Monday, other parts of the economy remain closed, with many provinces and businesses extending the holidays by another week.
On the Shanghai exchange, nickel <SNIcv1>, tin <SSNcv1>, lead <SPBcv1> and stainless steel futures <SHSSc1> all slumped 5%-6%, while aluminum <SAFcv1> and zinc <SZNcv1> fell 4%-5%.
Most prices were still locked near their lows in late trading.
China said on Monday its economy is facing increasing headwinds from the virus, especially in terms of consumption, and injected 1.2 trillion yuan ($173.8 billion) of liquidity into markets.
Chinese brokerage CITIC Securities noted the outbreak was having a negative effect on the prices of goods like eggs, as it had delayed the restart of canteens in schools, companies and institutions, cutting demand.
For edible oils, like palm oil, the virus would create transport problems, although it was the low season for demand following the holiday break, it said.
(Reporting by Emily Chow; editing by Richard Pullin)