Paul BlalockThank you, Elan. Good morning, all, and thanks for joining us today. This call is being webcast live over the Internet, and a recording will be available and archived on our website. On this call, we may refer to forward-looking statements made in yesterday's press release, and we may make other forward-looking statements on today's call. For information regarding the risks associated with forward-looking statements, please refer to the company's SEC filings. Joining me on today's call are Walter Energy's CEO, Walt Scheller; and Chief Accounting Officer, Robert Kerley; as well as other members of the management team, who will be available for Q&A. Walt? Walter J. Scheller Thanks, Paul. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. As we always do, I'd like to start today with a brief report on safety, which always comes first at Walter Energy. U.S. operations reduced the total reportable injury rate by 16% in the first quarter. In our Canadian operations, the reduction was 5% compared with the year ago. Across the entire Walter community, we strive to ensure a safety culture for our employees and in the communities where we operate. In that regard, I'm also pleased to share with you that just recently, on April 20, the Chief Inspector of Mines from the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations in British Columbia awarded our coal mine the Edward Prior Safety Award for 2011 as recognition for Brule's dedication to the safe operation of all aspects of its mining operations. Turning now to our results. First quarter met production of 3 million metric tons was the best in Walter's history and represents a 23% increase from the 2.4 million metric tons produced last quarter. Just one year ago, prior to the acquisition of Western Coal, Walter produced 1.5 million metric tons. Compared with last year, met coal production has doubled. Of the 3 million metric tons produced this quarter, 80% was hard coking coal, and clearly, we are off to a solid start to achieve our 2012 production target of 11.5 to 13 million metric tons.
Walter is also focused on reducing cost, and in the first quarter across all of our properties, the cash cost of hard coking coal decreased 12% to $116 versus $132 per ton in the fourth quarter last year. In the U.S., cash cost fell 7% and in Canada, cash cost for hard coking coal decreased 14%. While these cost reductions are solid start to the year, we anticipate even further progress as we optimize our existing operations and mature our startup projects.It is also important to mention that Walter's focus on enhanced met production and reduced costs is occurring at the same time that global met markets are stabilizing. We are beginning to see signs of strengthening demand for our hard coking coal, as well as improved pricing. While I believe that global met markets on a year-to-date basis can be certainly be described as choppy, over the past few weeks there have been some positive signs. Improvements in global steel pricing, reductions in steel inventories and the tightening of met supplies have led to increased global prices and of reversed declining trends that I know many investors have feared. Recent reports indicate the global steel utilization hit 81% in March and steel production in the top 10 producing countries was up 10% month-over-month. In Europe, while the market has remained spotty, our customers' products continue to be in high demand, and concern over economic uncertainty has been reduced. In South America, steel production is increasing but currency issues remain a factor. In Asia, our customer relationships remain strong. Demand is returning, and we see renewed request for additional shipments. Walter's focus on long-term supply contracts continues to serve us well. We are jointly marketing our suite of products on a global basis to our diversified mix of customers, and we continue to work closely with them to fulfill their customer-specific needs. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com