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Feature: Canadian coal sector sees support from coking, Asia thermal prices

London — Two years of higher-than-average met coal prices and 2018's first-half rally in seaborne thermal coal markets are helping drive more interest in Canada's coal mines and projects seen by the Coal Association of Canada.

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The CAC is determined to drive more investment into the sector, with Australia-listed companies such as Jameson Resources and Atrum Coal seeking to take coking coal mines in British Columbia and Alberta to feasibility and funding. Several mines, permitted and with existing resources, lie dormant.

The CAC's annual event on September 12-14 in Vancouver is expected to see increased attendance this year, CAC chairman Mark Bartkoski said this week.

He saw numbers building on prior years when potential in Canada to expand coal investment was leaner, due to lower coal prices.

S&P Global Ratings, which like S&P Global Platts is a unit of S&P Global, is scheduled to speak at the event on credit conditions for North American coal producers.

Coking coal reference spot prices exceeded $260/mt FOB Australia at the end of the year, and have trended well above $130-150/mt FOB in the past two years -- an expected longer-term price range according to analysts and industry executives. On Thursday, the Platts TSI Premium HCC benchmark closed at $173.10/mt FOB Australia.

Jameson says its Crown Mountain product has a cash cost of $75/mt FOB, and the project is estimated to mainly contain an HCC with high CSR.

"Our theme this year is focused on the idea that Canada is a very attractive jurisdiction for investment in and development of our world-class coal reserves," CAC said in a statement ahead of its event.

"Our high-grade metallurgical and thermal coal combined with first-rate infrastructure and transportation for getting out coal to market on both the east and west coasts makes Canadian coal a cost-effective solution for a resource that is in very high demand."

Exporters Teck Resources, Conuma Coal Resources and other North American met coal miners say they are experiencing high demand and inquiry for their coal, especially from India, Japan and in the Atlantic.

International presenters at CAC's event will include China's Shanxi Coking Coal Group and India's Avani Resources.

There is thermal coal interest from Canadian and US shippers seeking to leverage West Coast Canadian ports, and major Japanese and Swiss-based trading groups such as Mitsui, Itochu, Glencore and Trafigura are CAC members.

Xcoal Energy & Resources, the US trader with global activities in met coal, coke and thermal coal trading, will also participate.

Donkin

East Coast Canada miner Cline Group's Kameron Coal, which has a high-vol product at Donkin in Nova Scotia earlier developed by Xstrata Coal, started production last year. Sales have gone into thermal markets such as a local power plant owned by Nova Scotia Power, in a newly established contract.

Thermal coal markets have been ignited by benchmark spot prices crossing over to exceed $100/mt FOB Newcastle, Australia, since the end of April, and rising steadily since, with levels hitting $121/mt FOB August 1.

The Platts NEAT index, which references spot prices of thermal coal delivered into Northeast Asia basis 5,750 kcal/kg NAR, averaged $98.51/mt CFR Kinnura, Japan, in the first seven months of 2018, 16% higher than the year-earlier period.

Existing California ports' limited coal export capacity has Western US thermal coal miners increasingly targeting shipments via Canada as an alternative to the US Gulf and already congested US East Coast terminals.

New greenfield port plans for facilities to be built in Washington state have yet to proceed.

In Q1, Westshore terminals at Roberts Bank exported 7.2 million mt, of which 56% was metallurgical coal and 44% was thermal coal. In Q1 2017, thermal coal made up a 32% ratio at 1.89 million mt. Newcastle spot prices averaged 27% higher in Q1 at $103.57/mt FOB on Q1 2017.

--Hector Forster, hector.forster@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Loades-Carter, jonathan.carter@spglobal.com