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Copper falls on doubts about Greek debt solution

Sandy Shore, AP Business Writer

The price of copper is falling as signs of an improving U.S. economy take a back seat to unanswered questions about the prospects for a solution to Greece's financial crisis.

Copper for March delivery ended down 1.05 cents Thursday at $3.791 per pound. The price has fallen nearly 5 percent since Feb. 9.

Two reports are offering proof of the improving U.S. economy. The Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped for the fourth time in five weeks to the lowest point since March 2008.

In addition, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said its index of regional manufacturing activity rose to 10.2 in February from 7.3 in January. Indicators for new orders and shipments also increased.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued over ways to allocate more bailout funding to Greece. Without it, Greece faces default on a massive debt and the possibility that it may have to leave the union of countries that use the euro as currency.

Investors worry about future demand for copper and other commodities if Greece can't resolve its problems because that could lead to slower global economic growth. Copper is used in a wide range of products from consumer electronics to pipes and wires.

Phillip Streible, a senior commodities broker for R.J. O'Brien, said he expects copper prices to remain choppy until there is a better idea of what will happen in Greece.

Other metals prices were mixed. Gold for April delivery rose 30 cents to finish at $1,728.40 an ounce, March silver fell 3.8 cents to $33.37 an ounce, and March palladium rose $12.95 to $696.60 per ounce. April platinum fell $12.10 to end at $1,626.10 per ounce.

In other trading, oil rose to its highest level in five weeks as tensions between Iran and the West continued to weigh on energy markets. Benchmark oil increased 51 cents to finish at $102.31 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Heating oil increased 1.81 cents to end at $3.2097 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose 4.04 cents to $3.0471 per gallon.

Natural gas prices jumped 5.9 percent after the Energy Department said supplies fell last week more than analysts expected. Natural gas ended up 14.2 cents at $2.567 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In March agriculture contracts, wheat rose 2.75 cents to end at $6.2875 per bushel, corn increased 9.25 cents to $6.3625 per bushel and soybeans fell 2.75 cents to $12.5825 per bushel.