March 14, 2017 / 10:47 AM / 6 months ago

China thermal coal rallies to 2014 highs, defying expectations

BEIJING, March 14 (Reuters) - China’s thermal coal prices have jumped to their highest in years on Tuesday, amid fresh concerns about tighter supplies and robust demand even as winter draws to an end and a government meeting renewed speculation that new output cuts may happen.

The rally has defied consensus among analysts and traders that prices would crumble under pressure from new supply as producers in the world’s top consumer churn out more of the fuel.

Physical fuel prices in Qinhuangdao, the nation’s main coal port, SH-QHA-TRMCOAL jumped 3.3 percent from Friday to Monday, the biggest one-day gain since September, to 625 yuan per tonne, its highest since January 2014.

The most-active coal futures for May delivery on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange rallied over 3 percent to 619 yuan per tonne, their highest since the contract launched in May 2015.

The surge follows a meeting of state planner the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) with regional government officials on Monday to discuss coal output cuts to continue a policy of removing excess capacity, said four sources with knowledge of the meeting.

The meeting stirred speculation that the government might introduce new output cuts even after it indicated last week it would avoid radical measures after the market disruptions last year.

The content of the meeting was not made public, but the sources said the government reinforced its message that provinces must cut overcapacity, ensure mine safety and maintain supplies to utilities.

The NDRC did not respond to requests for comment.

“The market remains bullish on dropping port supply and decreasing stocks at utilities,” said Wang Fei, an analyst at Hua‘an Futures.

“The purported meeting of the NDRC just fuelled more panic from utilities, who are in a rush to buy more as prices go up further. There are also speculation that coal producers try to boost prices by cutting port supply.”

Other international prices also reacted on Monday.

Coal from Australia’s Newcastle port, a benchmark for Asia, jumped 9 percent to $78.70 per tonne on Monday, but are still well off November levels above $100.

Adding to the perception of tighter supplies, China’s National Statistics Bureau reported coal output dropped in the first two months of 2017, while power output, mainly fuelled by coal, jumped 6.5 percent.

Inventories at Qinhuangdao stand at 4.6 million tonnes, down from 7.33 million at the start of the year, according to Sublime Information Group.

Stocks at the six largest utilities have fallen by 1.6 million tonnes to 10.20 million from a month ago, equivalent to 15.5 days of use, according to Changjiang Securities.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Josephine Mason; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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