Coal earnings set to plunge 50% in North America

Coal-fired power plant at the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona. (Image by z-l-x | Shutterstock)

Earnings for North American coal miners may plunge by more than half this year as the coronavirus pandemic makes a weak market even worse, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

“Coal consumption will be crushed in 2020,” analysts led by Benjamin Nelson wrote in a report Sunday. “We expect a sharp and sustained slowdown in economic activity will result in lower economic growth, reduced demand for electricity and reduced demand for steel.”

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will slide by more than 50% in 2020, with thermal coal production down more than 25%, according to the report. The ratings company has had a negative outlook on the industry since August.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will slide by more than 50% in 2020, with thermal coal production down more than 25%

Already facing an inexorable decline as utilities shift away from the dirtiest fossil fuel, Moody’s said the struggling coal industry won’t be able to count on help from Washington “as the U.S. government directs financing toward industries more likely to rebound as the crisis eases.”

While some analysts including the U.S. Energy Information Administration have predicted a rebound in coal demand next year driven by rising natural gas prices, Moody’s is expecting a different scenario.

“We expect prices for natural gas, perhaps coal’s biggest competitor in North American power generation, to remain low through the early 2020s,” according to the report. “Persistently low natural gas prices will undercut the EIA’s expectations.”

(By Will Wade)

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