A key barometer of economic health is flashing more warning signs for China's economy

  • Copper demand in China is lagging at a time when consumption is usually elevated, Bloomberg wrote.

  • Profitability among copper smelters has dropped by the lowest in over a decade.

  • Less demand in the bellwether commodity demonstrates more trouble for China's economy.

China's demand for copper is lagging at a time usually defined by higher demand, Bloomberg reported.

Though the autumn season usually keeps metal manufacturers busy, disappointing demand may break the trend. It's bad news for China's metal processors — their profits have already plunged 36.7% in the first seven months of the year, the biggest drop in over a decade.

Low consumption also signals more pessimism for China's economy. That's as the metal is often held up as a reliable bellwether of economic strength, owing to its broad use across a number of sectors.

Though construction normally accounts for a quarter of demand, an oversupply of real estate has been a drag on the sector.

Declining consumer activity has also become a headwind for copper, as consumer goods account for 16% of total demand.

China has introduced some measures to overcome these challenges, discarding restrictions on home purchases and lowering interest rates to encourage spending. The summer has seen a slight rebound in consumer activity, though this may not be long-lasting.

Though calls for Chinese authorities to implement a more expansive stimulus approach could boost demand, the strategy is unlikely to be implemented.

However, Beijing's effort to greenify its economy has been a boost to copper demand, Bloomberg reported. For instance, demand for refined copper climbed 6.3% in the year's first half, given clean energy investments.

But this too, may be short-lived, as solar expansion cools and households continue to prioritize savings. Even where there is demand for copper, base smelters and processors have reported lowering prices to maintain customers.

In recent weeks, leading economists have voiced concern that China's blowout growth of prior years is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Bloomberg economists now expect China's GDP growth to slow to about 1% by 2050, compared to previous estimates of 1.6%.

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