NEW YORK TheStreet -- Coal companies were one of the worst-performing industries in 2012. This can be tied to decreasing demand for coal in the U.S. thanks to cheaper and increasingly abundant natural gas. While domestic coal demand was down in 2012 and not likely to rebound in 2013, the coal story looks much different in other countries.
China has become the largest importer of coal with fellow emerging-market country Indonesia recently becoming the second-largest importer. While estimates for future, foreign demand vary widely, the International Energy Agency is calling for coal to "come close to surpassing oil" for the world's largest energy source by 2017.
These sorts of predictions are often subject to revisions and updates but it is clear that even if demand continues to decline in the U.S. there are many emerging markets where it will increase.
ETF investors who believe the emerging market tail winds will help the stocks in the group recover and prosper have had two ETFs to choose from with the Market Vectors Coal ETF (KOL) and the PowerShares Global Coal Portfolio (PKOL). Now, however there will just be one coal fund because PowerShares recently announced that PKOL will stop trading in February.This past year was not great for the energy sector in general, the Energy Select Sector SPDR (XLE) lagged the S&P 500 with its 2.8% gain but KOL was down 23% and PKOL did slightly better with a 20% decline. The country makeup of KOL will allow it to capture any benefit from increased emerging market demand with a 21% weighting to China, 10% to Australia which is a large exporter of coal and 9% to Indonesia. The U.S. is the largest country weighting at 39% of the fund but some of the U.S. companies in the fund, like Joy Global (JOY)and Peabody Energy (BTU), participate in the global coal market. JOY makes mining equipment that is used all over the world and BTU has mining operations in Australia. Other large holdings in the fund include China Shenhua Energy (CSUAY)at 8.2%, Consol Energy (CNX), 7.5%, and Australian railroad company Aurizon Holdings (QRNNF), which transports the coal from the mines to ports to then be exported, at 6% of the fund. KOL pays an annual dividend. The most recent ex-date was earlier this week. The 2012 dividend was 42.5 cents, which gives the fund a trailing yield of 1.71%. The dividend paid by the fund has fluctuated historically but future dividends could increase meaningfully if the estimates for Asian consumption come to fruition. Future trends in Asia will be the key to whether investing in coal companies at these levels turns out to be well timed. For now this remains a speculative investment relying on a U.S. turnaround and increasing demand around the world. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned. Follow Roger Nusbaum @randomroger This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Select the service that is right for you!COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.
- $2.5+ million portfolio
- Large-cap and dividend focus
- Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
- Weekly roundups
Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.
- Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
- Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
- A custom stock screener
- Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.
- Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
- Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
- Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.
- Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
- Intraday commentary & news
- Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.
- 100+ monthly options trading ideas
- Actionable options commentary & news
- Real-time trading community
- Options TV