LONDON Copper surged to record highs on Wednesday to within a whisker of the key $10,000 level as investors scrambled to buy on worries of supply shortages and market deficits.
A key gauge of economic growth, copper has gained more than 60 percent since last June when markets tumbled, fearing sovereign default in euro zone countries such as Greece.
"The copper market is supply starved as demand rebounds strongly, even more strongly with the U.S. recovering and the rest of the world getting stronger," said analyst Robin Bahr at Credit Agricole.
Buoyant growth in top consumer China and improving economic data in the United States, the world's largest economy, have boosted investor interest in copper, key for the power and construction sectors.
Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange hit an all-time high of $9,988.25 a tonne on Wednesday, up from $9,945 on Tuesday.
"The fundamentals in the copper market are strong, it will get to $10,000 ... It's investor sentiment that has taken copper prices to where they are now," said Daniel Major analyst at RBS.
"There will be a deficit this year, real tightness is a 2012/2013 story.
A recent Reuters survey of analysts showed expectations are for a deficit of 444,000 tonnes this year.
That is a small percentage of global consumption estimated at around 21 million tonnes this year, but analysts say it is the beginning of a trend which could last several years.
Analysts say global copper supplies will remain tight and help propel prices to $12,000 a tonne and higher as output struggles to keep up with demand into 2012 and perhaps beyond with the lack of new big mines coming through.
A trigger for the rise on Tuesday was the Institute for Supply Management index of manufacturing factory activity, which rose to 60.8 in January fom 58.5 in December. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
"There's a very strong relationship between the PMIs (purchasing manager's indices) and copper," a trader said.
(Editing by Jason Neely)