May 2, 2018 Read More →

Coal Output Continues Downward Trend

S&P Global Market Intelligence ($):

U.S. coal production is down for the second straight quarter and average employment held flat compared to the prior period, according to an analysis of preliminary first-quarter data available from federal regulators.

Coal companies have been finding opportunities in export markets in recent months, but continue to face a declining domestic customer base that has been hesitant to buy much coal, at least at the prices companies are seeking. While the export opportunities appear to have given a boost to the balance sheets of the parts of the sector that have reported earnings so far, coal volumes fell about 3.1% as average coal employment ticked up less than one-third of a percent in the period.

Mines reporting data so far produced 186.6 million tons of coal in the first period, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of available data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, down from 192.7 million in the fourth quarter and down from 195.2 million tons from the same mines in the year-ago first quarter. The analysis excludes historical mine production and employment data for mines that did not yet have first-quarter data available. Mines reporting so far in the first quarter accounted for about 96% of reported coal production and about 98% of reported employment in the fourth quarter of 2017.

While an aging coal fleet continues to dwindle and high utility stockpiles leave many power generators with the option to delay coal purchases, seaborne buyers of coal have created an outlet for some producers to pull tons out of the domestic market. Companies reporting earnings so far have touted success in both thermal and metallurgical coal markets abroad.

Metallurgical coal markets tend to be more volatile and as a swing supplier, the U.S. traditionally supplies the market when prices go higher. Seaport Global Securities analyst Mark Levin recently said that for this cycle, much of the lowest-hanging production fruit has been picked at U.S. coal operations that have ramped up or recovered from production issues last year. While new projects are under development, he noted that greenfield development, even for high-margin metallurgical coal mines, has been “relatively sparse.”

More ($): Early Data Hints At Coal Volume Decline, Flat Employment In Q1’18

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