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Global coal roundup: A weekly review of top international stories

A roundup of international coal news from Dec. 5 to Dec. 12.

Following a meteoric rise in metallurgical coal prices, market observers wonder whether demand growth will step in to sustain high prices beyond a few quarters. The spot metallurgical coal market was seen at about $96/tonne at the beginning of August and surged to $300/tonne by the end of November, while the fourth-quarter 2016 metallurgical coal benchmark more than doubled both year over year and versus the prior quarter, to $200/tonne. "The big thing to think about with this coking coal price rally is it's not demand driven, and that's a problem," said Doyle Trading Consultants CEO Hans Daniels during the 15th Annual Coal Trading Conference on Dec. 6 in New York.

Dwindling coal consumption in China and the U.S., coupled with renewables expansion, is projected to result in a reduced growth in global coal demand over the next five years, Reuters reported Dec. 12, citing the International Energy Agency. The Paris-based agency expects global coal demand to reach 5.64 billion tonnes by 2021, slightly up from 5.40 billion tonnes in 2015, when coal demand fell for the first time this century.

North America

Canada: New Brunswick will leverage clean energy and energy efficiency in all sectors while phasing out coal to address the emerging threat of climate change, which Premier Brian Gallant called "the most important issue to face humankind in modern times." The province intends to make the government itself carbon-neutral by 2030 and increase spending on energy efficiency in the capital budget by 50%. The plan provides for planning and investment into new technologies that reduce pollution, such as smart grids and renewable electricity.

South America

Colombia: Fenoco, Colombia's principal coal railway, is in talks with unions Sintraime and Sintravifer regarding the 15% salary increase the workers they represent are asking for, Reuters reported Dec. 5. The concerned parties have until Dec. 13 to reach an agreement before the unions regroup to decide whether to further extend negotiations or to go on strike. Should a strike occur, it would derail the country's coal exports, as the mining companies that use the track produce more than half of Colombia's annual coal output of about 85 million tonnes.

Europe

United Kingdom: Negotiations on the U.K.'s exit from the EU could be completed by October 2018, provided the British government initiates the related negotiations with its EU counterparts by March 2017, as planned, Michel Barnier, the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator, said on Dec. 6. He added that if the British government formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave by the end of March 2017, talks "could start a few weeks later," so "all in all, there will be less than 18 months to negotiate."

Asia

China: China's coal imports in November reached 27 million tonnes, its highest in 18 months, due in large part to power utilities replenishing stocks ahead of the peak winter demand, Reuters reported Dec. 7. "I am not surprised to see the import rally in November. The price for domestic coal has been at a historically high level, whereas the price of foreign coal was relatively cheap," according to Wang Fei, coal analyst at Huaan Futures.

China's Shanxi province closed or restructured 25 coal mines this year, which equates to 23.3 million tonnes of coal production capacity, Xinhua News Agency reported Dec. 7. It surpassed its target of closing down or restructuring 21 coal mines this year, or 20 million tonnes of coal production, as part of China's efforts to slash overcapacity by about 500 million tonnes from 2016 to 2020, the report said, citing local land and resources authorities.

Australia

Adani Enterprises Ltd. is seeking a government loan of A$1 billion to develop the recently approved A$16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine, rail and port project in Queensland, Australia, the Financial Times reported Dec. 6, citing Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani. The company's move to apply for a state loan has further angered environmentalists campaigning against the development, who believe the project may cause irreparable damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Glencore Plc now has full control of its Newlands and Collinsville coal mines in Queensland, after acquiring Itochu Coal Resources Australia Pty Ltd's 35% interest and Sumisho Coal Australia Pty. Ltd.'s 10% interest, S&P Global Platts reported Dec. 5. A Glencore spokesman said the Collinsville mine, which has an annual production capacity of 6 million tonnes, is likely to resume production in early 2017, while it would be "business as usual" at the Newlands open-cut mine, which produces 11 million tonnes of coal per year, the report said.

Africa

South Africa: Anglo American Plc, which is seeking to off-load its iron ore, coal and manganese operations in South Africa in a bid to reduce debt, is leaning toward grouping the assets into one listed entity instead of selling them piecemeal, Bloomberg News reported Dec. 8, citing people familiar with the matter. "We continue to work through all the various options for divesting the thermal coal and Kumba iron ore assets in South Africa, which may include packaging them for sale to create a new South African mining company," Anglo said in an emailed statement.

As of Dec. 9, US$1 was equivalent to 1.34 Australian dollars.

S&P Global Platts and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.

This feature was updated as of 12:05 p.m. ET on Dec. 12. Some external links may require a subscription.