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China's total thermal coal imports and volumes from Australia rise 33% on year in Q3

Sydney — China's imports of thermal coal in July-September grew 33% year on year with China-bound exports from Australia matching the growth rate, the Australian government's Department of Industry, Innovation and Science said Friday.

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China's thermal coal imports totalled 56 million mt during the three-month period with Indonesia supplying the majority with 51% and volumes from Australia accounted for 24% of the total, the department said in its China Resources Quarterly report.

The 33% year-on-year growth in Australian supply to China took the figure for the quarter to 10 million mt, the report said.

The growth was mainly driven by mandated production cuts in China, while the country's electricity generation from coal increased by 10% year on year in July-September and thermal coal's share of the electricity mix in China increased slightly to 73%, up from 72% a year earlier, it said.

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China imported 17 million mt of metallurgical coal in the third quarter of 2016, up 12% year on year, but its imports from Australia fell 8% over the period to 8 million mt, according to the quarterly report.

China's metallurgical coal imports from Mongolia increased 108% year on year to 6 million mt in July-September, it said.

"Mandated output cuts and weather-related closures of key transport routes in China compounded operational issues at Australian mines to constrain world supply," it said.

Imports to China from Australia accounted for 49% of China's total metallurgical coal imports.

The report warned that commodity prices in general could come under pressure next year.

"Following the declines of 2014-2015, commodity prices have experienced a sharp rally through 2016. Sluggish real demand; high inventory levels; and market analysis all indicate that financial speculation and US dollar asset demand has provided considerable support to prices," it said.

"Into 2017 we expect prices to revert back towards cost curves, as the supply of key commodities adjusts to current windfall profits, and speculative demand softens under the weight of falling prices," it said.

"Australian bulk commodity producers have taken great strides in lowering their production costs and increasing capacity. They are expected to play a significant role in the supply adjustment. Further, they remain in a strong position to weather any undershoot in prices that may result from increased supply," it added.

Those further up the cost curve, including private Chinese producers, are in a much more precarious position, it said.

--Nathan Richardson, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Irene Tang, irene.tang@spglobal.com