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Global coal roundup: Southeast Asian coal miners struggle to restructure debt

A roundup of international coal news from March 12 to March 19.

North America

Canada: Conuma Coal Resources Ltd. announced it will restart operations at the Willow Creek metallurgical coal mine that was idled by its previous owner in 2013 — the latest in a string of reopenings for the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund Inc. subsidiary. According to the coal producer's website, the mine has the capacity to produce 1.2 million tonnes of mid-volatile hard coking coal and 750,000 tonnes of low-volatile pulverized coal injection product per year.

Asia

Coal miners in Southeast Asia are finding it difficult to take advantage of the current uptick in thermal coal prices to restructure their debt, with many of their creditors skeptical that the commodity will remain at the current price level for a sustainable period, analysts said. "Creditors are becoming more and more careful because of what happened in the past," said William Simadiputra, a coal analyst with Singapore's DBS Vickers, referring to the high nonperforming loans booked among mining companies as well as the coal price slump between 2012 and 2014.

Rising demand for thermal coal from China and Southeast Asia could indirectly benefit U.S. producers, but uncertainty about the long-term viability of the Chinese market could put a damper on export hopes. "It's easy for [China] to blow up the international markets by twiddling with their domestic market," said Matt Preston, research director of North America coal markets at Wood Mackenzie.

China: China's announcement that it will set up three ministries to oversee the mining sector as part of sweeping government reforms is expected to strengthen the country's ongoing crackdown on pollution by resource producers, according to Li Zhiqing, deputy director of Fudan University's research center for environmental economics.

Hong Kong: Newton Resources Ltd. said March 16 that its Xingan League Newton Trading Co. Ltd. unit agreed to purchase at least 500,000 tonnes of coal from an unnamed Chinese coal company. The off-take deal will take effect immediately and conclude Dec. 31 but is renewable via mutual agreement.

India: Four trade unions in India intend to stage a one-day strike April 16 to protest the government's move to open up commercial coal mining to the private sector, The Hindu reported March 13. The notice, served by the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the All India Trade Union Congress, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, will affect the operations of Coal India Ltd. and Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd.

This feature was updated as of 11:10 a.m. ET on March 19. Some external links may require a subscription.