By Courtney Schlisserman
September 4, 2020 - US coal exports fell from year-earlier levels in July as a drop in thermal coal shipments outweighed an increase in metallurgical volumes.
A total 5.36mn short tons (4.86mn metric tonnes) of coal left US ports in July. That was the most since April but still 17pc below year-earlier exports.
The weakness in US exports was entirely in steam coal shipments, which dropped to 1.63mn st from 3.02mn st in July 2019 and were down from 2mn st in June. That likely reflected buying and selling decisions made earlier in the year, when mild winter weather and Covid-19 mitigation measures disrupted electric power demand.
US thermal coal also has struggled at times this year to compete with product from other countries because of higher freight costs. US 11,300 Btu/lb typical 3pc sulfur coal, for example, would have landed in Europe at an average $50.70/t in the first half of this year based on Argus assessments for that type of coal and Panamax freight rates from the US Gulf to Rotterdam. Over the same time period, the average for global 6,000 kcal/kg coal to Europe was $45.88/t cif Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp.
Thermal coal exports out of New Orleans dropped to 302,597st in July from 638,506st a year earlier, Census data show. Volumes from other major US ports also fell, except for Norfolk, Virginia, which recorded a 24pc increase in steam coal shipments to 332,203st.
While US coal is still holding a premium to coal from other origins, market participants have said buyer interest in spot deliveries of US thermal coal improved modestly in July and parts of August as freight rates decreased and some countries lifted Covid-19 restrictions. That interest would be more likely to show up in August, September and October Census data.
Sub-bituminous coal exports sank to zero in July from 831,243st a year earlier while bituminous thermal coal fell a slightly less-significant 24pc to 1.58mn st.
In July, Europe and Central and South America were the only regions where US thermal coal exports rose on a year-over-year basis, reaching 391,666st and 365,626st, respectively.
Steam coal shipments to Asia, which has become the primary destination for US sub-bituminous and bituminous coal, fell by 66pc from a year earlier to 519,470st.
Thermal coal exports to India dropped to 110,319st from 314,061st as the country remained largely closed because of the coronavirus and the monsoon season. Shipments to Japan and South Korea also declined. The decrease in volumes to South Korea was entirely from sub-bituminous coal, which had accounted for 595,427st in exports last year. A tripling in bituminous steam coal exports to South Korea was not enough to offset the drop in the lower heat-content product.
US metallurgical coal exports climbed to 3.72mn st in July from 3.45mn st a year earlier and 2.58mn st in June. Increased volumes to Europe and Asia offset decreases in exports to Africa and the Americas.