Nov 3 (Reuters) - Australia's thermal coal prices continued to drop with spot purchases from major buyers Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at a minimum and Chinese utilities on the sidelines as they waited for clearer indications of demand.
Thermal coal on the global COAL Newcastle index for the week to date closed at $117.13 per tonne on Wednesday, down from $117.44 per tonne a week earlier.
On Wednesday, a 25,000 tonne parcel for December delivery traded at $116.25 per tonne on the globalCOAL screen and a 75,000 parcel for January traded at $116.50 per tonne.
"Your Japan, South Korea, Taiwan buyers are going quietly through their long-term contracts so they are not a big player... and China is slowing down, so it's a double negative," one Singapore-based trade source said.
The slump in Chinese buying will impact not only Newcastle prices, but Indonesian prices, the source said. Indonesian sub bituminous coal was seen with prices around $85 per tonne for 4,900 kcal/kg NAR coal.
"I think we are at a point were there is just no appetite," an Australia-based trade source said, adding that some high caloric value Indonesian coal had traded at a steep discount for very prompt delivery and offers of Australian coal at a discount received limited interest.
The globalCOAL price index for Australia has fallen from nearly $130 per tonne in March as demand from Australia's biggest buyer, Japan, has waned as a result of damage to coal-fired facilities and infrastructure during the tsunami earlier this year.
But prices are still more than 20 percent higher than prices a year ago when prices were below $100 per tonne.
Australian thermal coal shipments from Newcastle port dropped nearly 24 percent in the week ending Oct. 31 to 1.87 million tonnes, down from 2.45 million tonnes the prior week due to a combination of changes in scheduling, equipment problems, and a planned rail outage.
In China, demand was very weak, with utilities mostly having a wait-and-see attitude due to uncertainty about December demand and ports well-stocked with reports of large stockpiles.
China's domestic coal prices were flat at 853 yuan ($134.176) per tonne during the last week, according to the weekly Bohai-Rim Bay thermal coal price index published Wednesday.
One Shanxi-based major buyer said it received a lot of offers and some prices were attractive compared to domestic prices.
China, the world's biggest producer and consumer of coal, generally turns to imports when domestic prices rise above the cost of procuring supplies from elsewhere and lower freight rates and declining prices in Australia could make imports attractive.
($1 = 6.357 Chinese Yuan) (Additional reporting by Fayen Wong in Shanghai; Editing by Himani Sarkar)
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