China Slows Coal Markets

By James Wellstead — Exclusive to Coal Investing News

China Slows Coal Markets

Coal prices appear to have entered a holding pattern in recent weeks as sell bids h ave fallen silent in the face of uncertain fundamental cues. With weak macroeconomic figures leading to increased fears of a slowdown in Asian markets, traders remained quiet in a market that has yet to settle on contract prices for both thermal and coking coal in the Asia-Pacific and European regions.

News of slowing demand coming out of both energy and steel markets in Asia has been the major driving force shaping coal markets across the globe. While the Chinese economy remains on track to grow 8.5 percent this year, it is the lowest rate of growth in three years for the world's second-largest economy.

Reuters recently reported that Yu Bin, director of the macroeconomic research department at the Development Research Centre, said he “believe[s] prices of major commodities, including oil, will hover at high levels this year,” which may inhibit the country's overall growth trend.

News of China's highest  trade deficit in 20 years has also raised concerns that China's commodity-dependent export markets have been hit by the broader slowdown within the economy. The deficit also indicates that Chinese consumers have been investing more heavily locally, although it appears that this activity has done more to drive inflation fears than to spark robust demand.

Inflation worries are a concern for the Chinese the government.  Zhang Ping, Director of the National Development and Reform Commission, recently announced that managing inflation will remain a central priority for the country.

While overall inflation levels are beneath the government's four percent target, rising price levels in China's property and commodities markets are two areas of concern for the government and for investors given China's huge imports of raw materials.

Coking coal

China's souring steel sector has seen coking prices slide lower as fears of contracting capital and inflation in the housing and construction sectors remain.

Reuters reported last week that HSBC's Flash Purchasing Managers' Index, the earliest indicator of China's industrial activity, fell back to 48.1 from February's four-month high of 49.6. An index level of less than 50 indicates a contraction in industrial purchasing within the country.

The new orders sub-index, the biggest of the five components comprising the PMI, fell to 46.2 and weighed most heavily upon the overall index.

The contraction in demand was also visible in the Australian dollar as its value fell. The drop represents a decline in outlook for the country's coal and iron ore industries, which are heavily linked to Chinese industrial and export markets.

Australia's government recently reported that it believes average contract prices for coking coal could fall by as much as 23 percent this year, hitting a low of US $221/ton amid weaker import demand and an increase in output from Australia.

Thermal coal

China's demand for imported thermal coal is expected to increase by four percent in 2012, but the increase represents a slowing from growth in 2011.

Wider uncertainty about economic growth in the Asia-Pacific basin has left many traders on the sidelines as they await the upcoming settlement of contracts between Australian coal miners and Japanese power utilities before providing any serious price cues for the coming months.

An Asia-Pacific market participant told Platts last week that he felt the inactivity in trading was caused by Australian coal producers not wanting to be seen discounting any coal while talks to reach a price for Newcastle 6,000 kcal/kg NAR shipments to Japan are still ongoing.

"Until prices are settled in Japan, the market will probably stay pretty flat," he said.

Platts has currently assessed Newcastle 5,500 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal, a benchmark for the region and much of the world, for delivery during March 27 to May 4 as up US $0.15 at $93.25/MT.

6,000 kcal/kg NAR from Richards Bay, South Africa was also trading lower last week.  Platts reported a Singapore-based trader selling a 50,000 MT May-loading cargo at US $103.25/MT FOB.

Junior company news

Coalspur Mines Ltd. (ASX: CPL) announced that it has commenced detailed engineering on its flagship Vista Coal Project located in the Hinton region of Alberta, Canada. CWA will be responsible for engineering, procurement, and construction management. In conjunction with commencing detailed engineering, Coalspur is also in the process of finalizing and submitting the necessary regulatory applications required for construction to begin on the first phase of Vista.

Commenting on the commencement of construction, Managing Director and CEO Gene Wusaty, said that the company “anticipate[s] receiving all regulatory approvals of [necessary regulatory] applications and to have substantially progressed detailed engineering by the end of Q1 2013, which will position us to begin construction on Vista.”

 

Securities Disclosure: I, James Wellstead, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

China Slows Coal Markets from Coal Investing News

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