Singapore — The sustainability of the uptrend in seaborne thermal coal prices is largely dependent on the rate of Chinese domestic production, ANZ analysts said in a report released Thursday.
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"If China's coal production falls by 10% in Q1, the deficit in the Chinese market would be 38 million mt. If the fall in domestic output increases to 20%, then the deficit blows out to 115 million mt. The seaborne coal market will remain beholden to China's ability to restart operations," the analysts said.
The prospect of lower Chinese production boosting demand for imported coal buoyed seaborne coal markets, the ANZ report showed.
Indonesian thermal coal prices edged higher on the week amid healthy Chinese seaborne buying interest, with Platts assessing the Indonesian 4,200 kcal/kg GAR -- or 3,800 kcal/kg NAR -- coal at $37/mt FOB Kalimantan Wednesday, an eight-month high.
Amid persistent seaborne demand post-Lunar New Year holidays, stockpiles at the six major Chinese coastal power plants reached 16.8 million mt, sufficient for 45.3 days of coal burn with daily consumption at 372,000 mt, market sources said this week.
The surge in seaborne coal demand was expected to be short-lived and would have had a minor short-term impact on prices, some traders said.
"The uptick in seaborne coal demand is mainly due to the coronavirus [Covid-19] however, the import quantity is minute compared with China's domestic production. Seaborne prices will be subdued once production resumes full force," an east China-based analyst said.
He reckoned that the Chinese government would put in place measures to ensure a sustainable domestic supply.
"After this wave of demand, import prices will return to stable to lower in the next six months as China is not reliant on imported coal, except during emergencies like [the coronavirus]," he said.
Chinese domestic coal prices edged higher as the coronavirus outbreak has disrupted mine production schedules and transportation arrangements.
Platts assessed Chinese domestic 5,500 kcal/kg NAR coal at Yuan 577/mt [$82.64/mt] FOB Qinhuangdao, up Yuan 24/mt [$3.44/mt] since January 1, Platts data showed.
"With Chinese authorities focused on limiting the spread of Covid-19, many provinces have issued significant travel restrictions and many coal mines were forced to shut operations," the ANZ analysts said in the report.
While some Chinese mines at Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces were able to deliver coal via railway, large-sized trucks which were used to transport coal were reportedly restricted in Inner Mongolia in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, coal market sources also noted that trucking was halted at Caofeidian and Jingtang ports along eastern China, but has since resumed after the Lunar New Year holidays.
Despite efforts to restrict the movement of transport and manpower, the Covid-19 has dampened Chinese market sentiment and put some fresh deals on the back burner.
"With the disruption to production chains and subsequent supply shocks to China's economy, China's Q1 GDP will likely slow to 3.2%-4.0%," according to ANZ forecast.