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Baltimore's Thermal Coal Exports Surge by 26.4% in 2023, Shifting US Port Dynamics



February 9, 2024 - Throughout the year 2023, the United States experienced a significant and noteworthy surge in the exportation of thermal coal, registering a remarkable increase of 26.4%. The total volume of these thermal coal exports reached a substantial 44 million metric tons (mt), reflecting a transformative shift in the industry landscape. This surge in export activity played a pivotal role in establishing Baltimore as the preeminent port for thermal coal shipments, boasting an impressive export volume of 17.1 million mt. Other notable ports making substantial contributions to this sector included New Orleans, Norfolk, Seattle, and Mobile.

The dynamics of thermal coal prices presented intriguing patterns, adding an additional layer of complexity to the industry's narrative. Baltimore and New Orleans, in contrast to the rates observed in 2022, experienced a discernible decline in prices. This divergence was noteworthy as it ran contrary to the trends witnessed on the West Coast of North America. On the West Coast, coal prices embarked on an upward trajectory starting in June 2023. Initial assessments indicated a modest increase in prices per metric ton, a trend that continued through February 2023.

On the international stage, India emerged as the primary destination for US thermal coal, consolidating its position as the largest importer. The significance of India's role was underscored by the fact that it doubled its thermal coal imports from the US in 2023 compared to the preceding year, highlighting a robust and growing demand. The Netherlands and South Korea also emerged as key players, playing pivotal roles as significant importers and contributing substantially to the overall growth of the US thermal coal market.

The composition of thermal coal exports for the entire year showcased a predominant focus on bituminous coal, witnessing an increase in exports for both bituminous and subbituminous coal varieties. This trend reached its culmination in December 2023, where thermal coal exports experienced a notable month-on-month and year-on-year upswing. During this period, India, China, and Japan emerged as the primary destinations for thermal coal shipments, further emphasizing the global reach and impact of the US thermal coal market.

Upon amalgamating the exports of both metallurgical and thermal coal from the United States for the entirety of 2023, a significant 17.7% year-on-year increase was recorded. This cumulative total reached an impressive 90.5 million mt, showcasing the resilience and expansion of the US coal market on both domestic and international fronts. Furthermore, the exclusive category of metallurgical coal exports also exhibited notable growth, experiencing a 10.5% increase when compared to the figures from 2022. This robust performance underscored the adaptability and sustained growth of the US coal market, positioning it as a formidable player in the global energy landscape.