SYDNEY, Jan 12 (Reuters) – Copper prices eased in early Asian trading on Friday, hurt by a shift to stocks due to U.S. earnings optimism and a rise in oil prices. Nickel was also weaker, with the active China futures contract following London metal lower. FUNDAMENTALS: * COPPER: Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange dropped 0.1 percent to $7,135.50 a tonne by 0100 GMT, extending losses from the previous session. Capital Economics said it expects copper to continue its retreat, averaging just $6,800 a tonne in the first quarter and $6,250 in the second quarter. * SHFE: The most-traded copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange retreated 0.9 percent to 54,610 yuan ($8,407) a tonne. * CHINA: Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group, one of China’s top copper smelters, will suspend production at its Jinguan Copper unit for three days from Friday for repairs, a source familiar with the matter said. * NEW GRASBERG PLAN: Indonesia hopes to finalise contract talks with Freeport McMoRan Inc over the Grasberg copper mine by June, although divestment issues are still unresolved, a mining ministry official said on Thursday. *NICKEL: ShFE Nickel dropped more than 2 percent to a 3-day low, while LME nickel recovered from an overnight selloff to trade 0.3 percent firmer at $12,660 a tonne. * LME DEPARTURE: Paul MacGregor, head of sales at the London Metal Exchange, left his position earlier this month and has not yet been replaced, an LME spokesperson said, declining to give any further detail. * OTHER METALS: The rest of the ShFE base metals complex was weaker, with the exception of zinc, which was showing modest gains in step with overnight gains that saw three-month metal trade near decade highs. LME zinc was flat at $3,386 a tonne.

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