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Commodity prices mostly retreat on economic strains

Oil prices were mixed following recent volatility and as investors awaited the final outcome of an EU summit on tackling its debt crisis

Commodity prices mainly retreated this week, pressured by a tough economic climate highlighted in part by weakening growth in the world's second biggest economy China, according to market watchers.

Heading into the weekend, all eyes were on the European Union, whose leaders on Friday agreed to police thousands of eurozone banks beginning next year as they sought to boost growth in their austerity-battered economies.

By the close of a two-day summit, France and Germany had patched up differences over how to beat the debt crisis, although the new watchdog for 6,000 banks will come too late to re-float Spanish lenders via a dedicated rescue fund.

Leaders also hailed a 120-billion-euro ($155-billion) package of measures to try and kickstart a climb out of recession as social and political unrest hits Greece and Spain.

OIL: Crude prices came under pressure from official data that revealed slowing economic growth in China, the world's biggest energy consumer, which added to weak oil demand in the United States, traders said.

China's economic growth eased for the seventh straight quarter, official data showed on Thursday, but analysts said the slowdown had almost bottomed out.

The 7.4-percent expansion in the three months to the end of September was the weakest since the first quarter of 2009 as persistent problems in key export markets in Europe and the United States continued to hurt the economy.

The Chinese economy had grown by 7.6 percent in the previous quarter.

On Wednesday meanwhile, the US Department of Energy announced that crude supplies in the United States -- the world's largest oil consumer -- jumped by 2.86 million barrels in the week ending October 12, more than twice the amount forecast by analysts.

"The oil market continues to be beset with considerable uncertainty, as evidenced by unusual price fluctuations," said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

On Thursday "Brent dipped for a time by two dollars to hit $111.50 per barrel, though it has since risen again... The price had already behaved much the same way on Monday."

"Bullish factors such as supply risks and the plentiful supply of liquidity by the central banks are currently counterbalanced by bearish factors such as the supply surplus and subdued demand prospects.

"The price either climbs or comes under pressure depending on which factors happen to be more in focus at a particular time," added Fritsch.

Oil prices had fallen at the start of the week as a lower demand outlook offset Middle East supply risks caused by tensions between Syria and Turkey, analysts said.

By Friday on London's Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in December stood at $112.82 a barrel compared with $114.73 for the expired November contract a week earlier.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for November dipped to $92.08 a barrel, from $92.24 a week earlier.

PRECIOUS METALS: Prices retreated, mirroring sentiment across many commodity markets, but analysts said gold was set to win fresh support over the next few months.

"We suspect that further gains for gold will require a new catalyst as the US dollar recovers more ground and inflation expectations drop back," said Julian Jessop, economist at Capital Economics research group.

"But that catalyst is likely to come soon in the form of a renewed escalation of the crisis in the eurozone and a revival of safe haven demand."

By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, gold dipped to $1,737 an ounce from $1,766.75 a week earlier.

Silver fell to $33.33 an ounce from $33.79.

On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum decreased to $1,633 an ounce from $1,678.

Palladium reversed to $638 an ounce from $650.

BASE METALS: Base or industrial metals declined across the board as traders digested weak Chinese numbers.

Also this week, the head of the London Metal Exchange (LME), Martin Abbott, said he was hopeful of completing his group's takeover by the Hong Kong stock exchange by the end of 2012.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) agreed to buy the 135-year-old LME in June, when it was valued at £1.39 billion (US$2.15 billion, 1.77 billion euros).

"We will be legally owned by the HKEx hopefully by the end of this year" following approval by regulators, chief executive Abbott told LME Week -- a key annual event in the global metals industry calendar.

HKEx has said its purchase of the LME -- the world's largest exchange trading nonferrous metals, including copper and aluminum -- will boost its role as the bridge between China and international markets.

HKEx chief executive Charles Li on Monday said that a review into warehouse storage was ongoing amid market concerns that consumers were facing delays to deliveries of metals traded on the LME.

Abbott added: "We implemented changes last April on delivery obligations, we started a review, we are now in the process of this review. We're not going to say anything for some time on what we will or will not do."

By late Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months decreased to $8,115 a tonne from $8,168 a week earlier.

Three-month aluminium fell to $1,997 a tonne from $2,002.

Three-month lead dropped to $2,142 a tonne from $2,156.

Three-month tin declined to $21,650 a tonne from $21,676.

Three-month nickel slid to $17,080 a tonne from $17,290.

Three-month zinc sank to $1,905 a tonne from $1,937.

COCOA: Prices rebounded from three-month low points despite data pointing to falling demand for chocolate in key markets the United States and Europe.

Cocoa futures had fallen the previous week on receding supply worries in top global producer Ivory Coast.

The European Cocoa Association this week said that cocoa grindings -- or the powdered form of the commodity used to make chocolate -- slumped 16.2 percent during the third quarter of 2012 from the same period a year earlier.

"This represents the lowest third-quarter figure for seven years. The second quarter had already seen a considerable year-on-year decline," said analyst Fritsch. However the weak data had already been priced in by markets.

"The weak data were broadly in line with market expectations as consumer sentiment has been hit by an increase in economic uncertainty associated with the eurozone sovereign debt crisis," Barclays Capital said in a research note.

"Despite the unfavourable economic environment, we forecast cocoa grinding demand growth due to strong demand in emerging markets," it added.

By Friday on LIFFE, London's futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in December climbed to £1,608 a tonne from £1,524 a week earlier.

On New York's NYBOT-ICE exchange, cocoa for December grew to $2,483 a tonne from $2,360.

SUGAR: Futures extended recent losses, with white sugar reaching a 26-month low of $537 a tonne on Friday.

"Fears over the outlook for the global economy amid the ongoing debt crisis in Spain and Greece are weighing on the soft commodities," said Barclays Capital analyst Kate Tang.

By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for March declined to 19.76 US cents a pound from 20.47 cents the previous week.

On LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in December slipped to $539.50 from $566 a week earlier.

COFFEE: Coffee prices dipped on easing supply worries.

"Supply concerns subside in the near-term as Colombian production prospects remain optimistic," Societe Generale analyst Christopher Narayanan said in a note to clients.

By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for delivery in December fell to 159.25 US cents a pound from 160.70 cents a week earlier.

On LIFFE, Robusta for November slipped to $2,042 a tonne from $2,060.

GRAINS AND SOYA: Maize, wheat and soya prices all rose as a weaker dollar boosted demand abroad, traders said.

By Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade, maize for delivery in December grew to $7.67 a bushel from $7.52 a week earlier.

November-dated soyabean meal -- used in animal feed -- climbed to $15.42 a bushel from $15.22.

Wheat for December increased to $8.82 a bushel from $8.56.

RUBBER: Prices extended recent losses amid a slowdown to Chinese imports, traders said.

The Malaysian Rubber Board's benchmark SMR20 dropped to 293.55 US cents a kilo from 302.80 cents the previous week.