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US sub-bituminous coal exports slump in 2016

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World Coal,

US exports of Powder River Basin (PRB) coal have slumped since reaching a high of 12.5 million short t in 2013, according to analysis from S&P Global Market Intelligence, with 2016 levels more than 83% down on that peak.

S&P Global Market Intelligence forecasts exports of the PRB’s sub-bituminous coal will “barely clear 2 million short t” this year. As of August, exports had reached just 1.4 million short t with exports to South Korea – which took 3.7 million short t of US sub-bituminous coal in 2013 – totaling just 54 272 short t.

Meanwhile, several countries that were once top importers of US coal, including the UK, Canada, Chile, the Netherlands and Italy, have not taken any shipments through to August of this year, according to US Department of Commerce data.

UK coal imports have been substantially lower this year, as the country’s high carbon price has forced many of its coal-fired power plants to close and the government targets the phase out of coal power by 2025.

Meanwhile, natural gas power plants in Europe – long uncompetitive against coal – have benefited from falling gas prices.

According to industry association, Eurogas, European natural gas consumption is expected to rise 6% in 2016 on “the increased use of gas in power generation in a number of countries, such as France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.”

Back to US sub-bituminous coal exports, Mexico has been the one bright spot, taking 1.2 million t to August of this year – around 85% of the total, S&P Global Market Intelligence said. Japan, South Korea, Austria, Argentina, Brazil and Germany have also taken US coal.

The fall in sub-bituminous coal exports mirrors a contraction in US coal exports generally. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the US exported 10.1 million short t of metallurgical coal and 4.2 million short t of thermal in 2Q16, falling from 12.7 million t of metallurgical coal and 7 million short t of thermal coal in 2Q15.

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