Coal prices plunged early Wednesday, May 31, despite news surfacing that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement -- a move that might be expected to improve the forecast for America's largest coal companies.
Initially, Westmoreland Coal Company (WLB) fell 3.9%, Arch Coal (ARCH) fell 3.3%, and Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP) fell 2.4% Wednesday morning following the news, but all three stocks later recovered.
Notably, two major coal producers, Cloud Peak Energy (CLD) and Peabody Energy (BTU) , had advised the Trump administration to remain in the pact, to prevent concerted international action against coal companies. But a Peabody spokesman told Reuters on Wednesday that the company would support a withdrawal from the agreement, saying the accord was flawed.
Cloud closed down about 0.6% Wednesday, after recovering from a slump of almost 7%. Peabody's stock ended the trading session 2.2% lower.
Withdrawing from the climate accord would not necessarily be welcome among the wider business community. Sustainability advocate Ceres garnered more than 300 companies, and more than 280 investors, to sign onto an ad backing the agreement in November.
And Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday that his participation in President Trump's special advisory council could be terminated if the president decides to exit the Paris Climate agreement.
News that Trump was planning to pull out of the international accord was first reported by Axios. Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that he would be announcing his decision on the accord in the "next few days."
But coal may not have been reacting to the Paris accord Wednesday. One industry follower asserted the fall may have been caused more by a broader market trend of slipping commodities than the day's news.
"[Commodities] as a whole are getting smoked, with oil leading the way down on supply/demand concerns," he said in an email to TheStreet.
Jeremy Sussman, the head of U.S. equity research for Clarksons Platou Securities, said the news of the potential U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement is consistent with Trump's pro-coal stance.
Still, the market reaction to today's news widely differs from the rise in coal stock prices that occurred in March, after Trump signed an executive order decreasing regulations related to climate change.
Trump has repeatedly pledged to restore the coal industry despite skepticism from experts and some industry leaders. "We will put our miners back to work," he said at the March 28 executive order signing. And exiting the Paris climate accord would appear to be a continuation of that ideology.
But Height Securities analyst Katie Bays said Trump's Paris accord threat could be a negotiating tactic with other members of the G-7 to gain leverage on another front: fossil fuel investments. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in an April meeting clashed with other G-7 energy ministers over the U.S.'s push for stronger backing of coal and nuclear energy. Trump could potentially attempt to tie the U.S. remaining in the Paris agreement to upped investments in fossil fuels.
"Most OECD countries have prohibitions against providing any kind of financing or funds to third-world countries that want to invest in fossil fuel infrastructure," she said.
Restrictions are especially severe on coal plants and less so on natural gas facilities.
--Emily Stewart contributed to this report.