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US thermal coal exports jump to five-year high in September: Census

Houston — Due to a sharp decline in metallurgical coal exports, as well as a near weeklong disruption at the Port of Virginia from Hurricane Florence, US coal exports fell to a six-month low 8.6 million mt in September, down 5.7% from 9.12 million mt in August, but were capped off by thermal exports, which were at the highest level since March 2013, US Census Bureau data showed Monday.

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However, the latest month was up 6.6% from 8.07 million mt shipped out in the year-ago month.

Thermal coal exports were at 4.9 million mt, up 23.2% from August and 56% higher year on year. It was the highest monthly export volume since 5.5 million mt was shipped out in March 2013.

It was also the second time in three months and only the fourth time in the last six years that thermal coal exports exceeded metallurgical coal shipments (July 2018, February 2015 and October 2012).

Year-to-date thermal exports are at 37.03 million mt, up 44.4% from the first nine months of 2017, due to five of the six largest thermal coal importers -- India, South Korea, Mexico, Japan and Egypt -- seeing over seven-year highs. The Netherlands was the only country to see a yearly decrease.

Thermal exports out of Baltimore nearly doubled in September to 1.23 million mt, up 95% month on month and the highest in over seven years. Shipments out of New Orleans also jumped 19.5% month on month to 1.81 million mt, which were also the most since 2.14 million mt was exported in July 2012.

Bituminous exports to 26 different countries totaled 4.26 million mt in September, up 29.9% month on month and 74.9% from a year ago.

India received the largest volume of bituminous coal at 1.22 million mt, up 53.2% from 796,394 mt a month earlier. The Netherlands also imported 844,553 mt of bituminous coal in September, up fourfold from 209,341 mt in August and the highest since 911,415 mt in February 2017, while 460,062 mt was shipped to the UK, up 114% from August and the most since 487,412 mt in January 2015.

Subbituminous exports were at 622,812 mt, down 2.3% from 637,339 mt from a month earlier but up 6.4% from the year-ago month.

South Korea received 301,787 mt, or 48.4%, of the total subbituminous exports in September, down from 453,191 mt, or 71.1%, a month earlier. Mexico imported 163,499 mt, up from 153,550 mt a month earlier, while India imported 82,659 mt, its first subbituminous exports since 44,000 mt in July 2017.

Year-to-date bituminous exports are at 31.31 million mt, while subbituminous exports are at 5.4 million mt, up 59.9% and down 2.9%, respectively.

For the year, the top bituminous coal export origination ports are India, at 8.06 million mt, compared with 3.86 million mt in the year-ago period; the Netherlands, at 3.59 million mt, compared with 4.42 million mt; Japan at 2.77 million mt, compared with 1.59 million mt; Egypt at 2.55 million mt, compared with 576,694 mt; and Mexico at 1.79 million mt, compared with 184,360 mt.

Of the 15 largest bituminous coal importing countries, 13 have seen year-on-year increases, with the Netherlands and Germany at 18.9% and 1.1% decreases from the same period a year ago, respectively.

The top importing countries of US subbituminous coal for the first nine months are South Korea at 3.28 million mt, compared with 2.75 million mt last year; Mexico at 1.5 million mt, compared with 1.62 million mt; and China at 332,247 mt, compared with 156,359 mt.

MET COAL EXPORTS AT 18-MONTH LOW

Metallurgical coal exports dropped to 3.71 million mt in September, down 28% from 5.15 million mt in August and 24.8% from 4.93 million mt in the year-ago month. It was the lowest monthly volume for met exports since 3.7 million mt in March 2017.

Brazil, the largest met coal importer, took delivery of 616,250 mt in September, up from 539,866 mt in the prior month, while India, the second-largest importer, brought in an 11-month low 163,773 mt, down 23.6% from August and the lowest since 73,400 mt in October 2017.

Ukraine imported a 2018-high 570,463 mt in September, up from 218,607 mt in August, while Canada imported 489,657 mt, up from 252,656 mt a month earlier. The Netherlands and Japan both saw monthly decreases at 313,839 mt and 196,575, respectively, down 67.9% and 59.7% from August.

China did not import any met coal in the latest month for the first time since November 2017.

Year-to-date met exports are at 42.04 million mt, up 14.5% from the same period a year ago and the highest since 43.4 million mt was exported in the first nine months of 2014.

For the year, the top metallurgical coal export destinations origination ports are Brazil at 5.65 million mt ,compared with 4.7 million mt in the year-ago period; India at 4.3 million mt, compared with 2.52 million mt; the Netherlands at 4.17 million mt, compared with 2.3 million mt; and Japan at 3.75 million mt, compared with 3.54 million mt. Cumulative met exports to India, Japan and Ukraine are all over seven-year highs, while the Netherlands and Brazil are at the highest level since 2014 and 2013, respectively.

Exports to South Korea and China are also at 1.91 million mt and 1.9 million mt, respectively, compared with 2.59 million mt and 2.29 million mt a year ago. -- Tyler Godwin, tyler.godwin@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Annie Siebert, newsdesk@spglobal.com