US coal exports in March rose to the highest in more than four years, helping to boost first-quarter US shipments and volumes at eastern US railroads.
US ports in March shipped 9.48mn short tons (8.6mn metric tonnes) of coal, up from 7.31mn st a year earlier and the most since October 2018, according to US Commerce Department data released 4 May. The country’s first-quarter coal exports jumped to 24.6mn st, up from 20.2mn st a year earlier and the most since the second quarter of 2019.
Export gains were driven by eastern US port districts and the Gulf coast. Exports out of the west coast were constrained by rail disruptions and issues at some mines.
Eastern railroad Norfolk Southern’s (NS) first-quarter coal export volumes jumped to 8.2mn st, the most since at least the first quarter of 2014. NS would not have had an increase in total coal shipments last quarter without rising exports, given recent softness in US coal consumption as well as slower service on some of the railroad’s lines following a February derailment near East Palestine, Ohio.
Rival railroad CSX posted higher domestic and export coal volumes in the quarter, with coal exports at a nearly four-year high of 9.3mn st.
Some of CSX’s increase was tied to the company’s Curtis Bay terminal in Baltimore, Maryland, opening to full operations. The terminal had been partially closed through part of the third quarter of 2022 following a 30 December 2021 explosion at the site.
CSX and NS executives said last month that they expect steady US coal export demand this year.
Last quarter, coal exports out of Baltimore; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Norfolk, Virginia, all topped year-earlier levels, US Commerce Department data show. Exports out of California and the Seattle, Washington, Census district — a through point for Powder River basin coal being shipped from British Columbia, Canada, coal terminals to Asia-Pacific markets — was flat to lower than a year earlier.
Coal exports out of Baltimore were the highest in records going back to 2009, totaling just over 7mn st last quarter. Shipments out of Norfolk and New Orleans were the highest since the first quarter of 2019, at 8.88mn st and 3.57mn st, respectively.
Eastern and Gulf coast exports in the first quarter were supported by gains in both metallurgical and thermal coal shipments. Steam coal exports for the US as a whole rose in the quarter to 12.2mn st, the most since the final three months of 2018, from 9.7mn st in the first quarter of 2022.
March thermal coal exports jump
Thermal coal US exports in March alone were 5.23mn st, up from 3.78mn st a year earlier and the most since September 2018.
US steam coal exports to India in March jumped by 83pc from a year earlier to 1.81mn st following a surge in buyer interest earlier in 2023 when high-sulfur coal held a cost advantage over petroleum coke. Those conditions have since reversed, weighing on spot coal demand out of India.
US thermal coal exports to South Korea were the highest since August 2021 and shipments to Egypt were the highest since July 2021.
But, for the first time since December 2020, monthly US thermal coal volumes to Europe were lower than a year earlier. Steam coal exports to the continent slipped to 1.15mn st in March from 1.51mn st in the same month of 2022.
The decrease in steam coal shipments to Europe in March was led by a 30pc drop in exports to the Netherlands to around 497,900st. US thermal coal exports to Germany, France and Poland were up from March 2022.
For the first quarter, US steam coal exports to Europe rose to 3.7mn st, up by 37pc from the same period of 2022. US volumes to Canada and Mexico in the first quarter also rose from a year earlier, even as March shipments fell on the year. Conversely, US shipments to Latin America fell in the first quarter even as March exports to the region rose from a year earlier.
View article here.
- On May 11, 2023