Most publicly traded U.S. coal companies fell short of analysts' earnings projections in the fourth quarter of 2020, with a majority recording losses during the period.
Expectations were low going into the fourth quarter, with analysts projecting that most U.S. coal producers would report a loss in earnings and that only three would record positive EPS. An S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of consensus estimates yielded operating EPS projections ranging from a loss of $2.98 to a profit of $1.62.
Only Alliance Resource Partners LP and Consol Energy Inc. reported positive EPS in the period. Alliance was also among the only producers that outperformed analyst estimates during the quarter, along with Alpha Metallurgical Resources.
"Despite the disruptions encountered during the year, our teams performed at the highest levels across the entire organization, including our coal mines delivering the best safety record in the history of Alliance," Alliance President and CEO Joseph Craft said during a Feb. 1 earnings call. The Oklahoma-based producer posted fourth-quarter 2020 EPS of 27 cents, beating consensus forecasts by 3.8%.
Despite having the highest EPS among publicly traded coal miners in the quarter, Consol missed projections by 59.3%. The company reported earnings of 66 cents per share, lower than the consensus estimate of 1.62 per share.
During a Feb. 10 earnings call, Consol President and CEO James Brock pointed out that the company's coal production at its Pennsylvania mining complex decreased year over year due to "the lingering demand effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rail supply chain struggle to provide enough crews."
Alpha booked a loss of 66 cents per share in the period, beating analysts' projected loss of $2.98 per share by 77.9%.
"Both our industry and our company experienced tremendous adversity. Despite the headwinds, we weathered the uncertainty and ended the year with a strong sales book, a new record low in cost performance and a clear foundation for leading the business forward," Alpha Chairman and CEO David Stetson said during a March 15 earnings call. During the call, President, CFO and Treasurer Charles Eidson outlined the company's plan to produce thermal coal only as a byproduct of its metallurgical coal operations starting in 2023.
Among U.S. coal companies, Arch Resources Inc. posted the deepest loss in the fourth quarter of 2020, reporting a loss of $2.15 per share against the consensus estimate of a loss of $1.91 per share.
The coal miner is winding down its thermal coal operations, including those at its Coal Creek and Black Thunder mines. "We've not finalized the details as yet, but our plan will be to maintain strong cash flows in order to provide funding for the ultimate closure, even as we seek to reduce final reclamation requirements," Arch Resources CEO, President and director Paul Lang said during a Feb. 9 earnings call.
Other publicly traded U.S. coal companies that missed analysts' expectations in the quarter were Hallador Energy Co., Ramaco Resources Inc., Warrior Met Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp.
"The fourth quarter continued to present a challenging market environment as a disruptive impact from the COVID-19 pandemic remained evident throughout the U.S. and global economies," Warrior Met CEO Walter Scheller said during a Feb. 25 earnings call.