US coal exports fell for the first time in two years in November, dragged down by a drop in thermal bituminous shipments.
Volumes declined to a 10-month low of 8.87mn short tons (8.05mn metric tonnes) from 9.05mn st in November 2017. Thermal coal exports dropped to 4.45mn st from 4.76mn st a year earlier.
The last time US coal shipments had declined was in October 2016, just as gains in seaborne thermal markets became consistent enough to start drawing in US steam coal. Metallurgical coal markets had already started to improve.
The decrease in November steam coal exports was entirely tied to bituminous coal, which continued to slide from a five-and-a-half-year high set in September, to 3.71mn st in November. Those exports had totaled 4.08mn st a year earlier.
A 48.7pc drop in bituminous coal exports to Asia, to 805,503st, more than offset gains in shipments to Europe, Central and South America and Canada.
Sub-bituminous coal exports, primarily from the Powder River basin, increased to 684,515st from 603,820st in November 2017, helped by volumes sent to Asian and Latin American countries.
Bituminous thermal coal exports to India fell by more than half, to 471,651st from 1.07mn st a year earlier.
It was not immediately clear why exports to the country dropped off. At least some of the decrease may have been a result of competition with petroleum coke markets. Prices for cfr India 6.5pc sulfur 40 HGI petroleum coke dropped by $12.50/t over the month of October, when at least some November coal purchases would have been made, to $96/t. Northern Appalachia coal prices, meanwhile, held comparatively steady at levels that would be equivalent to being delivered to India at around $95-$100/t cfr.
US petroleum coke exports to India increased in November, to 708,463st from 605,499st a year earlier.
Bituminous steam coal exports to South Korea also decreased in November, by 38.4pc. That and the decline in shipments to India masked gains in volumes sent to Japan and Thailand.
Meanwhile, bituminous thermal coal exports to Europe increased by 37.8pc to 1.87mn st. The majority of the gains came from shipments to the UK and ports in the Netherlands, which jumped to 500,795t and 562,425st, respectively, from 199,810st and 329,923st in November 2017.
Coal was still being priced into Europe early last autumn at prices that would be profitable to US sellers. Prompt two-month deliveries of 6,000 kcal/kg coal averaged $100.13/t cif Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp, before moving down to $87.01/t in November.
On a year-to-date basis, bituminous thermal coal exports remained higher than 2017 levels. Shipments totaled 42.6mn st in the first 11 months of 2018, up from 33.6mn st a year earlier. Exports to every continent were higher than they had been in 2017.
Metallurgical coal exports were also higher across the board in January-November 2018, climbing to 52.6mn st from 49.5mn st.
For November alone, coking coal exports rose to 4.42mn st from 4.29mn st. Increased trade with Asia and North American partners offset decreases in shipments to Europe and Central and South America.
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- On February 7, 2019