Strong demand and tight supplies pushed copper prices for future delivery to $1.40 a pound Thursday, the highest price in more than seven years.
On other markets, precious metals advanced, grain and soybean futures retreated, livestock and meat were higher and energy futures declined, all in shortened Christmas Eve trading sessions. Stock index futures retreated.
With copper supplies continuing to decline, many copper traders on New York's Commodity Exchange were unwilling to sit out the long holiday weekend holding "short" or sell positions, said Bernard Savakl, an analyst in New York with Paine Webber.
"Trading was steady and underpinned by supply tightness fears and a lack of sellers in the thin pre-holiday trading," Savakl said.
The dollar's weakness against major foreign currencies contributed to copper's surge, he said.
The contract for December delivery of copper settled 4 cents higher at $1.40 a pound, the highest U.S. copper futures price since February, 1980, when the contract hit an all-time high of $1.43 a pound, said Frederick Demler, metals economist for Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Soybeans Get Boost
Gold and silver futures gained modestly on the Comex, supported by the weaker dollar and feelings among traders that the dollar would continue to slide lower, Savakl said.
Gold settled $3.10 to $3.20 higher with December at $486.10 an ounce, and silver was 7 cents to 7.1 cents higher with December at $6.80 an ounce.
Most grain and soybean futures closed modestly lower in an abbreviated session on the Chicago Board of Trade.
"It was really a skinny trade" since many traders had ended their week Wednesday, said Dale Gustafson, an analyst in Chicago for Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Some new export business in soybean meal and higher prices for imported tropical oils gave soybean products a slight boost, but the beans closed lower, he said.
Wheat was lower following Wednesday's weekly government wheat auction, Gustafson said. The Agriculture Department said it had sold 25.5 million bushels of wheat in the auction.
Corn retreated slightly in thin trading.
Wheat settled 0.75 cent to 3.5 cents lower with March at $3.1525 a bushel; corn was unchanged to 0.75 cent lower with March at $1.895 a bushel; oats were 1.25 cents to 2 cents lower with March at $1.90 a bushel, and soybeans were 3.75 cents lower to 1 cent higher with January at $6.0375 a bushel.
Most livestock and meat futures advanced as traders sought to cover their positions before the weekend, said Chuck Levitt, an analyst in Chicago with Shearson Lehman Bros.
Cattle futures also were strengthened by forecasts for stormy wintry weather this weekend. Heavy snows could slow the movement of cattle to market, creating a supply backlog, he said.
Pork futures gained on expectations that relatively low slaughter numbers this week would mean greater supplies next week, Levitt said.
In addition, many pork traders are hesitant to trade in advance of the Agriculture Department's Jan. 6 quarterly hogs and pigs report, Levitt said.
He said that he expects the report to show a 10% increase in the nation's hog herd.