U.S. coal exports yield to steam market pressure
US coal exports fell in March under pressure from a second month of declines in steam coal shipments.
Just under 9.22mn short tons (8.36mn metric tonnes) of coal left US ports during the month, down from 9.43mn st a year earlier, according to US Census Bureau data released today. Exports for the quarter dropped to 25.2mn st from 27.2mn st.
The decrease was entirely tied to thermal coal exports, which dropped by 16.3pc to 3.73mn st. That offset a 10.4pc gain in metallurgical coal shipments during the month.
Coking coal markets have held steadier than thermal coal has so far this year. Prices for US metallurgical coal exports have held within about 10pc of late-2018 levels.
And US producers, expecting global metallurgical coal supply to be somewhat tight and demand to improve, are initiating projects aimed at adding capacity. Consol Energy said yesterday that it is [starting development]( https://direct.argusmedia.com/newsandanalysis/article/1899302) of the Itmann low-volatile coking coal mine in West Virginia.
Meanwhile, benchmark thermal coal prices remain at levels that challenge US producers’ ability to make a profit in international markets. Prompt two-month deliveries of 6,000 kcal/kg coal to Europe have recovered only modestly since reaching a 34-month low of $52.53/t cif Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp on 4 April. The market was assessed at $59.64/t yesterday, still 30pc below prices at the end of last year.
Asia-Pacific markets have higher prices, but the increased cost of shipping US coal there negates the spread between European and Asian prices.
Export markets “are under pressure,” Alliance Resource Partners chief executive Joseph Craft said on 1 May. The company trimmed its export expectations for this year by 1mn st, to 11mn st.
Foresight Energy also scaled back its outlook for 2019, to at least 6mn st from a forecast of a minimum 7mn st projected in February.
The companies also cited high water levels along the Mississippi river as challenges to shipments. Foresight estimated yesterday that flooding near New Orleans in March delayed 1mn st of exports last quarter. And another round of high water conditions is likely behind the nearly 700,000st in inventories the company is holding at SunCoke Energy’s Convent Marine Terminal in Louisiana.
Exports out of New Orleans inched up in March, to 1.24mn st from 1.23mn st a year earlier. But that was because of an increase in metallurgical coal. Bituminous thermal coal shipments from the district fell to 1.07mn st from 1.24mn st, marked by decreases in volumes to major trading partners in Asia and Europe.
Total US bituminous thermal coal shipments to Asia dropped to 1.12mn st in March from 2.08mn st. That was led by a 41pc drop in exports to India, to 854,017st.
Bituminous steam coal exports out of Baltimore — which was the primary beneficiary of India’s increased interest in US coal last year — fell to 1.16mn st from 1.2mn st a year earlier as gains to non-traditional trading partners, such as Egypt, softened the blow from a 38.6pc drop in shipments to India.
Bituminous steam coal exports to South Korea declined as well, to zero from 261,511st a year earlier. And sub-bituminous coal shipments to the country fell to 280,068st from 381,341st.
Thermal coal exports to Europe, meanwhile, fell to 719,694st from 770,695st. Shipments to the Netherlands, a primary intake point for volumes going to the northwestern part of the continent, sank to 228,214st from 433,905st.
Coking coal exports to Asia, Africa and Europe increased in March, to a combined 4.81mn st from 4.11mn st a year earlier. That more than offset decreased shipments to the Americas.
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- On May 9, 2019