The price for March delivery of copper settled below $1 a pound for the first time in nearly two months Wednesday as the market continued to reflect slackening demand for the metal.
On other markets, precious metals futures were mixed, Treasury bond futures were sharply higher, grains and soybeans retreated, livestock and meats were mostly higher and energy futures were lower.
Copper futures prices extended their steep January slide on New York's Commodity Exchange, with the active March contract off 7.2 cents at 96.2 cents a pound. That's about 30 cents lower than the March contract's price on Dec. 31, when the spot price reached an all-time high of $1.46 a pound.
The spot January contract settled Wednesday at $1.06 a pound, the lowest price of any copper futures since last Nov. 19.
The selling was due to a lack of demand, said Stephen Platt, an analyst in Chicago for Dean Witter Reynolds Inc.
"Most users, instead of paying up at the highly inflated prices, have preferred to use the existing inventory they built up during the November-December time period," Platt said.
Some analysts believe that the long bull market for copper peaked at the end of 1987. However, others expect demand to pick up in the next two months, forcing prices above $1.50 a pound.
Also on the Commodity Exchange, gold futures prices fell while silver advanced.
Platt said the government's report that the economy expanded at an annual rate of 4.2% in the last quarter of 1987 defused inflationary expectations and weakened demand for gold.
Treasury bond futures advanced sharply on the Chicago Board of Trade, with the March contract up 1 22/32 points at 92.24.
Platt said some sellers of gold futures bought silver futures, however, thus accounting for the gain in the silver futures prices.
Gold settled $2.20 to $4.40 lower, with February at $467 an ounce; silver was 2.2 cents to 3 cents higher, with March at $6.69 an ounce.
April live cattle futures hit a new contract high of 69.77 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange as higher cash prices brought buyers into the futures market, analysts said.
Live cattle futures initially opened lower but rallied after sellers found no buyers at the technically important level of 67.50 cents for the February contract, said Tom O'Hare, an analyst in New York for Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co.
The pork complex advanced on ideas that a backlog of slaughter-ready hogs caused by frigid weather had thinned and that kills would be lighter for the rest of the week, O'Hare said.
Live cattle settled 0.20 cent to 0.65 cent higher, with February at 68.55 cents a pound; feeder cattle were 0.10 cent lower to 0.28 cent higher, with January at 81.40 cents a pound; live hogs were 0.15 cent lower to 0.60 cent higher, with February at 47.62 cents a pound, and frozen pork bellies were 0.02 cent to 0.37 cent higher, with February at 56.77 cents a pound.
Grain and soybean futures settled mostly lower on the Chicago Board of Trade, with late profit taking pressuring the soybeans and wheat, analysts said.
Soybean futures also succumbed to weakness in the soybean oil and soybean meal futures, which was in turn based on lower prices on cash markets, said Dale Gustafson, an analyst in Chicago with Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Wheat futures prices advanced for most of the session and even pushed briefly above the contract's lifetime high price of $3.35 a bushel.
Corn was slightly lower on weaker cash markets.
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