An analysis published by Wood Mackenzie forecasts that thermal coal imports will increase in December in China.
According to the market analyst, seaborne thermal coal imports will grow from 9.5 Mt to 20 Mt in December. This new figure is much higher than the 8.8 Mt in September or the 17.7 Mt average of the first nine months of the year.
In WoodMac’s view, the increase will work to ease domestic prices and strengthen seaborne prices.
The scenario that leads to such growth is based on a series of factors that have hindered the National Development and Reform Commission’s (NDRC) goal to rely more on local suppliers in order to stabilize the price for QHD 5500 to below RMB600/t.
“The QHD price has stayed at above RMB600/t since late September. The market news is that the NDRC asked coal miners to increase supply at the end of September and that domestic supply increased in October to 336 Mt, compared with 331 Mt in September, or 325 Mt last October,” the analysis reads.
“But mine accidents in Shanxi, Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia have prevented output from increasing further, and the coal price has remained around RMB615/t.”
Despite the accidents, coal imports dropped to 14 Mt in September, the lowest since May 2011.
But the expected increase, which the NRDC would use to balance the market, is viewed by WoodMac as a negative measure.
“We do not think 20 Mt of additional coal should be purchased for delivery to China in December. Firstly, it would cause both seaborne coal prices and freight to immediately spike, which is not what the Chinese government wants. Secondly, unloading imported coal in Chinese ports will not be easy anytime soon as we estimate the ports are full of imported coal yet to clear.
Finally, coal generation in the coastal region is weaker this autumn than last because of strong hydrogeneration. The coal inventory is higher than last year, making it difficult for gencos to stock the imports flooding in.”
With January 2021 expected to be colder than usual, WoodMac estimates that the gencos will prefer to get more supply in later December or January, considering the current high inventory.
“As such, we estimate China will first clear the import cargos in ports that are over 10 Mt, leaving roughly 10 Mt of additional demand for seaborne products,” WoodMac reports. “However, not all the coal will be delivered to China in December. Instead, it should be spread over the winter period.”