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Asia coal industry sees blue skies, ignores storm clouds


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 15 May 2018 00:00


 

NUSA DUA, Indonesia  (Reuters) - Asia’s coal miners, shippers and traders are seeing strong demand and rising prices for their fuel, and they expect this happy situation to persist for several years to come.

It was a challenge to find anybody pessimistic about the outlook for coal in Asia, the world’s largest producing and consuming region, at this week’s annual gathering of the industry on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

This was in stark contrast to the Coaltrans Asia conferences in prior years, where the moods were gloomy as the industry battled to survive five years of declining prices from 2011 to 2015 and policies aimed at cutting the use of the polluting fuel in the two biggest importers, China and India.

Certainly, it would seem that the industry has some reason to be optimistic, with Chinese imports up 9.3% in the first four months of the year, and hopes that India’s two years of declining imports will end in 2018.Prices are also performing better recently, with Australian benchmark thermal coal at Newcastle Port up to $101.35 a ton in the week ended May 6, a gain of 11.6% from the low so far this year of $90.68 at the end of March.

Even low-rank Indonesian coal is performing better, with Argus Media assessing 4,200 kilocalorie per kilogram (kcal/kg) coal at $42.79 a ton in the week to May 4, up from the 2018 low of $41.08 on April 13, and 18.2% higher than the low for 2017 of $36.20 in May of that year.

The main driver of coal’s improving performance is Chinese demand, with traders reporting buying interest from China for a variety of coal grades, from low-rank Indonesian fuel to higher quality coal from Australia.

The bullish Chinese story may have taken a slight hit in the April numbers, with customs data showing coal imports dropped to 22.8 million tons from 26.7 million the month before.

But traders at the Bali event expressed confidence that this was merely a blip, caused largely by some increased scrutiny by customs and certain port restrictions, impediments that they expect to only last a short time.

India’s imports were also lower month-on-month in April, dropping to 15.5 million tons from March’s 16.6 million, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts.

But India’s imports are up slightly in the first four months of 2018, to 60.4 million tons, a gain of 3% over the 58.6 million recorded in the same period last year.Although both China and India have shown only modest increases in imports so far this year, this is stoking optimism in the industry, especially when added to additional emerging demand from other Asian countries, such as Pakistan and Vietnam.


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