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China's Caofeidian port halts custom declarations for seaborne coal: sources

Singapore — Caofeidian port in northern China has halted custom declarations for all coal imports effective July 16, which is being interpreted by the market as a signal of a further tightening of import curbs, market sources said Tuesday.

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Sources at three major Chinese steelmakers confirmed with S&P Global Platts that they had received verbal notice from Caofeidian port-related authorities that restrictions were being imposed.

The sources said a meeting was held at midday Monday about the restrictions and that verbal notice was also circulated in the market Monday evening.

A Caofeidian port agent also confirmed this with Platts, without providing further comment.

"It looks like the Caofeidian port restrictions are targeting both thermal and metallurgical coals from all origins," a Chinese trader said.

Market sources said the measure was imposed after the total volume of coal imported over the first half of 2019 was deemed by authorities to be greater than desired. China imported 27.1 million mt of coal over January-June, including thermal and metallurgical coals, up 5.8% year on year, latest customs data showed.

Caofeidian port is primarily a domestic coal hub located in northern Hebei province.

Although no official announcement has been made, market players said the restriction was targeted at trading companies, while end-users were still allowed to process custom declarations.

"Caofeidian mainly handles domestic coal, but as there have been port restrictions elsewhere, some seaborne traders have been diverting to this port for unloading and custom clearance in recent months," a trader in east China said.

Other market sources in China said the impact of the decision on seaborne coal was expected to be limited as the volume likely to be impacted is small.

"More importantly, traders are worried this is a signal to the market," another market source in east China said.

In addition to the port restrictions reportedly imposed at Caofeidian, market sources said clearance times at Qingdao and Fangcheng ports were increasing.

"I think this is a bearish factor to consider for the seaborne market, while the port stocks and domestic coal market will be supported," a trader in Tangshan said.

Platts assessed Premium Low Vol coal at $184/mt FOB Australia Monday, while the CFR China price was assessed at $191.50/mt CFR China.

Prices of 4,200 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal, one of the most liquid grades in Asia, was assessed Monday at $35.50/mt FOB Australia and $44.95/mt CFR China.

-- Jeffery Lu, jeffery.lu@spglobal.com

-- Hui Min Lee, hui.min.lee@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Wendy Wells, wendy.wells@spglobal.com