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US coal exports jump to 18-month high in March: Census

Highlights

Thermal coal exports rise to 26-month high

Year-to-date thermal exports up 24.7% on year

Houston — US coal exports rose to an 18-month high 6.88 million mt in March, as thermal coal exports jumped to their highest level since January 2019, while metallurgical coal shipments declined on the month, according to US Census Bureau data released May 4.

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March coal exports were up 2.5% from 6.71 million mt in February and 9.7% higher than the year-ago month. It was the highest in a month since 7.01 million mt in September 2019.

Thermal exports increased to a 26-month high 3.8 million mt in March, up 13.7% from the previous month and 11.8% higher year on year. It was the most exports for thermal coal in a month since 4.08 million mt in January 2019 and was the second-highest total for the corresponding month in the last eight years, only below 4.04 million mt in March 2018.

Year-to-date thermal exports are at 9.4 million mt, up 24.7% from the first quarter of 2020.

The top originating ports for thermal coal in March were Baltimore with 1.3 million mt shipped out, and New Orleans, at 1.28 million mt, compared with 1.42 million and 784,620 mt in February, respectively. Seattle and Norfolk, Virginia, shipped 357,925 mt and 308,746 mt, compared with 462,772 mt and 228,395 mt in February.

India received the largest volume of thermal coal at 1.53 million mt in March, compared with 1.6 mt in February and 1.03 million mt in the year-ago month. It was the most coal shipped to India in the corresponding month in over 10 years.

Rounding out the top three was Japan and the Netherlands, which took deliveries of 318,293 mt and 298,763 mt in March, compared with 280,711 mt and 204,433 mt, respectively, in February.

Bituminous coal exports were also at a 26-month high 3.4 million mt, up 22.1% from February and up 87.6% from the year-ago month. It was only the second time in the last nine years that bituminous coal exports outpaced metallurgical coal shipments, and first time since September 2018.

Subbituminous exports were at 371,500 mt in March, down 21.9% from February and 30.4% lower than a year ago.

South Korea received 268,782 mt of subbituminous coal, down from 389,275 mt in February and 374,868 mt in the year-ago month. Japan was shipped 89,051 mt in March, up from 73,370 mt in the prior month and 75,703 mt in March 2020.

Year-to-date bituminous exports are up 27.6% on the year at 7.89 million mt, while subbituminous exports are at 1.38 million mt, up 6.4% from a year ago.

For the year, the top bituminous coal export destinations are India, at 3.81 million mt compared with 3.17 million mt in the year-ago period; the Netherlands, at 814,694 mt compared with 395,068 mt, and Japan, at 497,294 mt compared with 334,146 mt. Rounding out the top five are Egypt and China, which were shipped 444,759 mt and 377,808 mt, respectively, up from 164,401 mt and 19 mt, in the same period a year earlier.

The top destinations for US subbituminous coal in the first three months of 2021 are South Korea, at 1.13 million mt compared with 1.02 million mt last year, and Japan at 223,245 mt compared with 75,503 mt a year ago.

Met coal exports fall 8.6% on month

Metallurgical coal exports fell to 3.08 million mt in March, down 8.6% from February and 20.8% lower year on year. It was the lowest met coal exports in the corresponding month in over 10 years.

An eight-year high 771,719 mt was exported to China in March, up from 722,112 mt in February and 130,000 mt in the year-ago month. It was the highest amount to China in a month since 1.15 million mt in March 2013.

Brazil was shipped 653,740 mt in March, up from 323,733 mt in February, while exports to India and Japan totaled 320,540 mt and 250,466 mt, respectively, compared with 157,191 mt and 318,443 mt in February.

Year-to-date met exports are at 9.39 million mt, down 11.3% from the same period a year ago.

For the year, the top metallurgical coal export destinations are China, at 2.11 million mt compared with 407,000 mt in the year-ago period; Brazil, at 1.45 million mt compared with 1.89 million mt, and the Netherlands at 821,571 mt compared with 891,891 mt.