Coal price rally with legs as India overtakes China
Oil aside, coal – specifically the power-generating variety – has turned out to be the real surprise commodity of 2015.
The benchmark thermal export price from Australia's port of Newcastle is up 22% in a month and on Monday scaled $70 a tonne for the first time in nearly six months.
The advance was most keen in the Pacific seaborne market as mines in Australia and South East Asia close, but Rotterdam and Appalachian prices (despite still rising production in the US) have also been lifted from multi-year lows.
The rally in thermal coal (metallurgical continues to languish in the low $90s) also come despite Chinese coal imports falling sharply in January on the back Beijing's crackdown on the commodity through tough emissions regulations and newly-imposed import tariffs.
The jury may still be out whether the coal rally has legs but further out a structural shift in the seaborne market should support price in the longer term.
Hopes are high that India, the world's second most populous nation after China, could take over the role of China as the world's growth engine, particularly since the election of business-friendly Prime Minister Narendra Modi who presides over the country's first majority government since the 1980s.
There is a dire shortage of infrastructure on the sub-continent and the population is urbanizing rapidly, the same conditions that were present before the Chinese economic boom set off a commodity supercycle.
A recent study by independent commodity research house CRU show India's domestic demand in 2014 equalled around 80% of the global seaborne market.
That means that "small changes in supply and demand can have a relatively large impact on total import requirements" and "even if domestic coal production was to increase, there would still be issues getting the coal to market due to logistical bottlenecks."
India's electricity consumption is set to grow by nearly half over the next five years and while the subcontinent's domestic production is rising it won't be able to keep up with the growth in demand.
According to CRU India will requiring an additional 136 million tonnes of imports by 2019. The majority of this import growth is expected to materialise over the next three years as significant coal-fired capacity comes on stream, and CRU expects India to replace China as the world's largest import market by 2015-2016.