Total US coal exports rose in February for only the second time in two years, reflecting improved market conditions over late 2020 and into early 2021.
A total 7.4mn short tons (6.7mn metric tonnes) of coal departed US ports during the month, according to US Census Bureau data released today. That was up from 6.8mn st in February 2020 and the most since November 2019.
Exports have risen on a year over year basis only one other time since January 2019. They rose by 7.9pc in December.
US markets benefited from limited global supply at the end of last year and early 2021 that boosted both prices and demand.
Thermal coal prices neared two-year highs in December and January, when some spot coal shipments for February loading might have been booked. Coking coal prices were also higher relative to year-earlier levels, according to Argus assessments.
Prices have held around January levels since then despite some indications of loosening supply. For thermal coal, Illinois basin production is understood to be more readily available than previously, while Northern Appalachian supply is still limited.
In February, exports out of Baltimore, Maryland – which are predominantly Northern Appalachian coal – rose to 2.3mn st from 2.1mn st a year earlier, Census data show. Shipments out of New Orleans, the primary exit point for Illinois basin coal, increased to 878,862st from 535,314st.
New Orleans exports were entirely thermal coal. For Baltimore, steam coal shipments rose to 1.6mn st from 1.5mn st and coking coal increased to 717,575st from 637,714st.
Total thermal coal exports rose on a year over year basis for the fourth straight month, to 3.7mn st in February from 3.3mn st a year earlier while metallurgical coal climbed to 3.7mn st from 3.6mn st.
Asia remained the primary destination for US thermal coal. Steam coal shipments there rose to 2.7mn st in February from 2.6mn st a year earlier.
China’s unofficial ban on Australian coal imports continued to open some avenues for US coal.
Most of the increase in steam coal shipments to Asia can be attributed to the 157,630st that headed to China, up from zero a year earlier. Exports to India and Japan, which are typically larger consumers of US steam coal than China, also rose.
Metallurgical coal exports to China climbed as well, to 795,984st from 222,665st, which helped boost coking coal shipments to all of Asia up to 1.5mn st from 1.4mn st a year earlier despite a drop-off in exports to India, Japan and South Korea.
Exports to Europe also rose, with steam coal shipments climbing to 390,711st from 170,326st a year earlier and coking coal increasing by roughly 500,000st to 1.68mn st.
And thermal coal exports to Africa more than doubled, to 265,825st from 112,711st.
Closer to the US, coal exports to the Americas were mixed. Shipments to Canada and Chile climbed, but were mostly offset by decreased volumes to other countries in the Americas.
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- On April 8, 2021