US thermal coal exports rise to 4-month high
US thermal coal exports rose from year-earlier levels for the first time in four months in August, led by a gain in bituminous coal shipments to Europe.
A total 3.46mn short tons (3.17mn metric tonnes) of steam coal departed US port districts in August, up from 3.3mn st a year earlier, US Commerce Department data released on 5 October show. Shipments were the highest since April, which also was the last time that thermal coal exports topped year-earlier levels.
The export gain was predominantly bituminous coal, which rose from a year earlier for a third month in a row to 3.12mn st.
Sub-bituminous coal exports fell from a year prior for a third consecutive month, to 324,773st. But shipments were up from June and July.
US sub-bituminous coal markets have been harder hit by rail congestion. Some Powder River basin exports out of Westshore Terminals in Canada were under force majeure in the latter part of June and July because of issues on rail carrier BNSF. Shipments may have fallen again in September as workers went on strike at Westshore in the back half of the month. But some sellers could use other terminals to export sub-bituminous coal.
Other factors also may have weighed on sub-bituminous coal exports. The fuel’s shipments to South Korea dropped by almost half to 236,747st in August from 448,971st a year earlier. In August 2021, South Korea was the destination for all but 84st of US sub-bituminous coal. US bituminous thermal coal exports to the country fell as well, dropping by 40pc to 168,556st.
South Korea has been favoring Indonesian sub-bituminous coal, which is likely cheaper to obtain. Argus assessed GAR 5,000 kcal/kg Indonesian coal at an average $130/t fob in July and $108.33/t in August and put the landed cost for that coal in South Korea at $141.19/t and $118/t, respectively. South Korea also has been taking more Russian bituminous coal, according to customs data.
Only two other countries were destinations in August for US sub-bituminous coal, Japan and Vietnam, where shipments were up from zero a year earlier.
Meanwhile, bituminous thermal coal exports to countries in Europe and to Japan climbed in August from year earlier levels, offsetting decreases in volumes to South Korea, India and Egypt.
US steam coal exports to the Netherlands reached a five-month high of 664,792st and was more than double the 248,482st sent to the country in August 2021.
Thermal coal exports to Poland were a record 180,489st in August, up from zero a year earlier. US shipments to Germany were the highest since January and, at 260,061st, were 37pc higher than in August 2021.
Steam coal exports to all of Europe climbed to 1.44mn st from 531,370st in August 2021 as shipments to the UK and France also rose from year-earlier levels.
August was the first time since November 2018 that US thermal coal exports to Europe were higher than to Asia.
US steam coal exports to Asia fell by 31pc from a year earlier to 1.14mn st. In addition to the decline in volumes to South Korea, shipments to India fell to a two-year low of 352,834st.
US thermal coal exports to Africa also declined, while shipments to South America and Canada increased. Shipments to Canada reached an eight-month high of 142,938st and were almost double what they were a year earlier, while exports to Chile climbed by 78pc to a seven-month high of 117,898st.
Total US coal exports, including metallurgical coal, fell to 6.96mn st from 7.35mn st in August 2021. Coking coal shipments dropped to a little under 3.5mn st from 4.05mn st.
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- On October 13, 2022