February 20, 2018 Read More →

U.S. Coal: ‘Fewer and Fewer Customers’

Bloomberg News:

The big problem for Cloud Peak and fellow miners is there are fewer and fewer customers. Between the end of 2011 and 2017, America’s coal-fired power plants lost 15 percent of their generating capacity, from 306 gigawatts to 261 gigawatts. Another 12.5 gigawatts of plants are scheduled to close this year, making 2018 potentially the second-biggest year on record for retirements, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Colleen Regan.

On Friday, FirstEnergy Corp. added to the pain, announcing plans to sell or shutter its 1.3-gigawatt Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia by 2019.

What’s more, Could Peak can’t really benefit from the industry’s brightest spot of the past year: metallurgical coal. Rivals including Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp. that dig up that variety of coal — which is used in steelmaking and found, among other places, in Appalachia and Australia — have felt a boost thanks to strong demand from China and other international markets. Arch has climbed about 30 percent in the past 10 months and Peabody has gained more than 70 percent in the 10 months.

Those moves are “definitely all about met coal,” Sussman said by email.

Metallurgical coal, however, offers limited upside. Of the 785 million tons of coal dug up in the U.S. in 2017, only 7.6 percent of it was metallurgical, according to Andrew Cosgrove of Bloomberg Intelligence.

Cloud Peak, which offers only thermal coal, is down almost 20 percent in the last 10 months. Similarly, Foresight Energy LP is down more than 30 percent and Alliance Resource Partners LP, which sells primarily thermal coal, is down 17 percent.

Against that backdrop, Cloud Peak on Thursday posted fourth-quarter adjusted Ebitda of $19 million, missing the $25.3 million average of seven analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. It also said that a new credit facility would be “significantly smaller” than its $400 million one that matures in February 2019.

MKM Partners analyst Daniel Scott lowered his earnings estimates for Cloud Peak for both 2018 and 2019. He also reduced his price target for shares — he has the equivalent of a hold rating — to $4 from $4.50, citing the “difficult thermal coal environment.”

“We stay on the sidelines while we wait for domestic thermal coal stockpiles to adjust to a new normal,” Scott said in a note Friday.

More: This Coal Miner Shows Limits of Trump’s Bid to Rescue Industry

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