BHP Billiton plc (BHP) , the world's biggest mining company, jumped to the top of the London market Wednesday amid a surge in coking coal prices following a major storm in Australia that could impact global steel prices.
Spot prices for coking coal, a key ingredient in steelmaking, have risen to multi-year highs this week after a tropical cyclone in Australia triggered a mudslide that blew out a key rail link in the province of Queensland. The damage prompted BHP to declare 'force majeure' on coking coal deliveries Wednesday, a move that lifted futures prices 8% for a four-month high and could have ripple effects into the costs of steel-related construction projects.
BHP shares spiked more than 2.4% in London to change hands at 1,286 pence each, topping the FTSE 100 leaderboard and trimming their three month decline to around 2.3%.
Aurizon Holdings, which operates the rail line in Australia that moves around half of the world's seabound coking coal, said it may take up to a week to clear the track of debris and repair damage from storm Debbie and analysts have estimated as much as 13 tonnes of the raw material may be impacted.
Coking coal producers could potentially pick up the slack, although the extended delivery period between U.S. and Chinese ports could limit their ability to meet any near-term shortfall. China bought more than 10 million metric tonnes of steel last year, according to International Trade Association figures, and is the world's 14th largest importer.
China and Japan are large importers of coal, while Australia is a larger exporter to those countries, TheStreet's Jim Cramer, manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, said on CNBC's "Mad Dash" segment Wednesday.
They can't get the coal to the docks, Cramer said, adding that ships are waiting idly off the coast. The lack of access to supply has caused the price of coal to spike. So how do they fix this problem? By importing from the U.S.
However, that does not mean investors should rush out to buy Peabody Energy (BTUUQ) or Arch Coal (ACIIQ) , Cramer reasoned, even though they could be the winners. Instead, if investors want to play the trade, they should consider buying Norfolk Southern (NSC - Get Report) , as the coal still needs to be transported for exportation.
Even though it's a temporary issue, this will "make the quarter" for some companies, Cramer said.
Updated from 10:06 ET to include Jim Cramer's comments.