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Metals lead broad decline in commodity prices

Industrial metals led a broad decline in commodity prices Wednesday following a weak report on U.S. orders for long-lasting goods and signs of slower economic growth in Britain.

Investors are concerned about the pace of the global economy, particularly after recent signs of a slowdown in China. China is a huge importer of raw materials, so a slowing economy there can weigh on prices for raw materials.

The U.S. Commerce Department said orders for long-lasting goods rose 2.2 percent in February, compared with a steep drop in January. Economists surveyed by FactSet had expected durable goods orders to increase 2.7 percent.

Meanwhile, a revised report showed that Britain's economy shrank 0.3 percent between October and December, compared with the previous estimate of a 0.2 percent drop.

"These looming economic concerns are not going away," said Dave Meger, vice president of metals trading at Vision Financial Markets.

A stronger dollar also pressured commodities. Since commodities are priced in dollars, a stronger dollar makes them more expensive for traders who use other currencies, such as the euro.

The sharpest price declines occurred in metals used for manufacturing a range of products such as consumer electronics, automobiles, construction materials and aircraft.

Copper for May delivery fell 8.75 cents to finish at $3.7925 per pound, June palladium dropped $15.65 to $647.35 per ounce and April platinum ended down $22.30 at $1,635.20 per ounce. April gold fell $27 to end at $1,657.90 an ounce and silver declined 78.5 cents to $31.831 per ounce.

In other trading, oil prices declined after France's government said it is considering a release of emergency stockpiles as part of a U.S.-led effort to ease the recent climb in prices.

Benchmark crude oil fell $1.92 to end at $105.41 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil declined 1.07 cents to $3.2079 per gallon, gasoline futures fell 1.01 cents to $3.3955 per gallon and natural gas ended down 1.7 cents at $2.191 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In May agricultural contracts, wheat fell 9 cents to finish at $6.3075 per bushel, corn dropped 10.5 cents to $6.2025 per bushel and soybeans declined 2.25 cents to $13.675 per bushel.

Cotton for May delivery was a bright spot, increasing 1.4 cents to finish at 94.03 cents per pound.