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Coking coal prices supported by mine, logistics issues: Seaport Global

London — Coking coal mine and logistics disruptions may be a strong source ofprice support this year for the commodity, according to US investment bankSeaport Global.

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Seaport raised its benchmark coking coal contract pricing forecast for2018 to $170/mt FOB, from an earlier $150/mt FOB. Seaport expectsfirst-quarter pricing of $220-$230/mt FOB. This is based on a spot priceindex-based calculation, which use premium HCC FOB Australia prices publishedby S&P Global Platts, according to market sources.

A run of spot prices assessed in December, part of a three-month periodused to price Q1 contracts, has provided a "strong start to the year,"analysts led by Mark Levin said in a note. December 2017 averaged at $242/mt,the note said.

"We are more than halfway through the Q1 price assessment period, and metcoal prices have averaged $246/mt," Seaport said.

"While we expect met coal prices to fall over the course of the year,simple math tells us it will be challenging for benchmark quality prices toaverage much less than $170/mt in 2018 given the strong start to the year andsome potentially notable mine production issues," it added.

Seaport said Canadian miner Teck's coking coal processing plantdisruption announcement last week at the Elkview mine -- which is operatingbut at reduced capacity -- is the most recent of mining issues. Along withreduced output and problems highlighted in Australia at BHP Billiton-operatedmines, lower output and unexpected disruption may support prices goingforward.

Nonetheless, the bank expects higher Mongolia output and exports of thecoal to China, and reduced vessel queues in Australia, to aid a price declinelater this year.

China's participation in the seaborne market is crucial to spot pricingand industry data cited by Seaport suggests the country needs to restockcoking coal to some degree.

Seaport expects China may be back importing material in a month or so.China has been largely out of the market for prime coals after domestic coalprices had a long run of being lower than imports. This has switched back inthe middle of this month to favor imports, according to Platts price data.

"From our contacts, we believe the Chinese will remain out of the metmarket for at least the next month, banking on prices drifting lower untilthey return from holiday (~February 20s)," Seaport added.

--Hector Forster, by Lisa Miller,