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US Coal Cutting Australia's Lunch

 

 

By Lou Caruana


July 8, 2021 - China - which is Australia's largest trade partner with a longstanding regional relationship - is in a tit-for-tat dispute with Australia.


Meanwhile the US is capitalising on the situation even though it is encouraging its allies around the world to push back against the Chinese Communist party. 


The US is ramping up its exports of coal to China and stands to profit from the dispute with Australia.


Coal prices are soaring higher as China seeks to source coal from other providers - including the US.


The Australian coal industry is missing out on the benefits of this despite being the world's largest exporter of seaborne coal.


The effect on Coronado Global Resources' US coal assets is an example of how Australia's dispute with China is benefitting US coal mines.


Coronado CEO Gerry Spindler said in the company's latest quarterly report that its US operations continued to ramp up production to align with domestic and international demand and higher export pricing.


Its Buchanan mine is operating at full capacity while its Logan mine in the US continues to expand production levels.


"North American and Atlantic basin steel producers have increased production and demand from China has increased due to China's import restrictions on Australian coal, resulting in improved pricing and higher pricing from the US into China," Spindler said.


"China's ban on Australian imports continues to distort the global metallurgical coal market with higher CFR [cost of freight] China prices drawing in additional spot supply from the US, Canada, Russia and Mongolia replacing Australian imports.


"The timing of any change to the Australia coal ban remains uncertain, with Australian exports continuing to rebalance into more distant Atlantic basin markets."


The Energy Information Agency predicts coal production in the US will reach 617 million short tons in 2021.


This is nearly 3% higher than the 600Mt forecast a month ago.


In his quarterly update Peabody Energy CEO Glenn Kellow said prices for low-volatility pulverised coal injection coals were on par with Australian hard coking coal because tight supply and China paying premiums for Russian coals resulted in higher prices.  


He could have added that the US was also a beneficiary of these higher coal prices.


Ironically, things are looking up for the US coal industry with higher domestic gas prices making it a cost-effective alternative despite all the rhetoric about the ongoing rise of renewable energy.


The US coal industry has shown in the past that it can be a swing producer into the Asia Pacific market when the conditions are right.


China's National Bureau of Statistics' recent data release shows China achieved record first quarter economic growth of just over 18% year-on-year.


Wood Mackenzie said the impact of the recovery was also being felt in provincial energy markets within China, particularly in the coal and power sectors as rapid economic growth combines with a spike in early summer temperatures.


Hogsback reckons the conditions could be right for the US to gear up and take a greater chunk out of Australia's coal export market.