Sydney — All good things must come to an end — and the great metals rally of 2017 is no exception. Prices of key industrial metals on the Shanghai Futures Exchange slumped on Wednesday, for no very obvious reason other than profit-taking. Regulators have been trying to take the heat out of zinc, steel rebar and coking coal contracts over the past week, but those moves don’t seem to quite match the timing of Wednesday’s sell-off. Besides, the irrational exuberance of China’s commodity speculators has historically tended to be a better guide than the considered opinions of wiser heads. A retreat, however, is long overdue. As Gadfly has argued previously, the price rises of the past six months have been built on unstable foundations. The only sustainable path to rising prices in the long term is demand growth, but that’s been curiously lacking in this boom. On a trailing 12-month basis, global copper demand has been essentially flat for 18 months at about 23-million tonnes. Zinc, anoth...

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