Copper futures have slumped this year. Although the red metal has been battered by speculation about the exact state of the Chinese economy, copper has at least outperformed gold and silver, though that is not saying much.

The iPath Dow Jones-UBS Copper Total Return Sub-Index ETN (NYSEArca: JJC), which tracks copper futures not physical copper, is off 15.3% this year, but 2014 could bring better fortune as the Chinese economy improves. [Tepid Chinese Demand Weighs on Copper ETF]

“China imported 435,613 tons of Copper during the month of November, which is an increase of 7%, year over year. It is also a nice jump from October imports of 406,708 tons. China accounts for 40% of global Copper consumption,” writes Rob Kurzatkowski, senior commodity analyst at Options Express.

An improving U.S. economy, particularly if driven by the the housing sector, could also buoy 2014 upside for copper and there is already evidence that traders that have been bearish on copper are reducing corresponding positions.

“The large short speculative position in the Copper was reduced last week, according to the Commitment of Traders (“COT”) report. The COT report showed non-commercial traders were short 27,477 contracts, which is a reduction of 4,270 contracts from the prior week. The short position is large enough to give traders reason to be concerned about a short-covering rally,” according to Kurzatkowski.

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