Louisville, Kentucky — Fresh off a record sales year in 2014, Pennsylvania anthracite coal producer Blaschak Coal is forecasting similar results in 2015 with more upside possible if unspecified projects the company is pursuing come to fruition later this year, Blaschak President and CEO Greg Driscoll said Thursday.
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Blaschak, like other anthracite miners in northeastern Pennsylvania, has been riding a crest in popularity for several months as the continued conflict in Ukraine causes European and Asian customers to look to the US to help fill their hard coal needs.
Most of Blaschak's business is domestic, largely in the home heating area, and Driscoll said anthracite prices in the US are rising a bit, perhaps by 10% over last year. Anthracite coal also is used in steel production.
"We've raised prices a few times, a dollar here, a dollar there," he said. "Prices are certainly not at the early 2012 levels, but they're moving in the right direction."
Export sales, he believes, will be held back in 2015 because of foreign prices he views as inadequate coupled with a strong US dollar.
"With the dollar getting strong, that doesn't help us," he said, particularly against the euro and ruble. "If Russia has the material, that's a much more favorable exchange."
Blaschak sold 374,000 st in 2014, although production dipped a bit at its three mines in Luzerne, Schuylkill and Columbia counties.
"Production was not as high," he said. "We didn't mine as heavily. We actually sold a lot of inventory off."
Blaschak also operates two coal processing plants.
The company has budgeted an essentially "flat sales year" in 2015. "But we're pursuing some projects pretty heavily that could increase that," Driscoll said. While declining to elaborate, he said, "we're talking about additional mining and processing. Some of this is acquisition from within the region."
On Thursday, Driscoll was reviewing his company's first coal inquiry from Bangladesh. And while he intends to respond to the unidentified would-be customer, he said it is unlikely that Blaschak will be selling them any coal.
"We're at a point now where we have to rebuild some inventories," he said. "We have our coal committed and it will be late this year before we're probably interested in any kind of export."
Most likely, Driscoll will pass the Bangladesh inquiry along to other anthracite producers in the area "because we want to see Pennsylvania in the game."
"The shadow of coal is long and dark, but we have a good product here. We have a high-carbon product that has some advantages we think the market is beginning to see," he said.