Australia sees higher Asian thermal coal imports

Australia sees higher Asian thermal coal imports

Perth: Strong demand for thermal coal in China and India will help Asia avoid the first fall in imports for a decade this year, and push import growth even higher in 2010, an Australian government forecast showed on Tuesday.

In an updated quarterly forecast, the Australian Bureau for Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE) said demand for imported coal in Asia would rise by 13.6 milion tonnes, or 3.5%, to 401.6 million tonnes in 2009.

This compares with its previous forecast in June for a 3.3% fall, which would have been the first decline in at least 10 years.

ABARE, the research body for the world’s number two thermal coal exporter, also said Asia’s steam coal imports in 2010 would increase by 25.4 million tonnes, or 6.3%, to 427 million tonnes, up from its previous estimate of 5.3% growth.

Thanks to improved regional demand and new port capacity, ABARE has significantly upgraded Australia’s thermal coal exports, estimating it to increase 2.6% from a year ago to 140 million tonnes in 2009-10. It had expected Australian exports to fall 6% to 122.5 million tonnes in 2009-10 in its June report.

“Over the course of 2009, thermal coal demand in the Atlantic market has been weak, while demand in the Asian market has remained relatively strong, underpinned by increasing imports into China," ABARE said in the report.

Imports from China, the world’s largest coal producer and consumer, are expected to jump about 70% from a year ago to reach 60 million tonnes in 2009 — making it a net importer this year by 35 million tonnes, ABARE said.

Previously ABARE had said that China, now the world’s No. 6 steam coal exporter, would only become a net importer in 2010.

Indian imports are seen rising 24% from a year ago to 42 million tonnes in 2009 and reaching 50 million tonnes in 2010, underpinned by the government’s plan to double coal-fired electricity generation capacity by 2017.

ABARE also revised up its thermal coal import forecasts by Japan, the world’s largest steam coal buyer, estimating a 10 percent fall in 2009 to 115 million tonnes, compared with its June forecast of a 14% decline.

Japan’s thermal coal imports are expected to see little growth in 2010 due to a subdued economic environment and possible higher use of nuclear power, the agency said.

In South Korea, ABARE said growth in the country’s steam coal imports is seen slowing in 2010, after a forecast 7% increase to 81 million tonnes this year on the back of new coal-fired power plants coming onstream.

“The program to expand coal-fired generation capacity was largely completed in the first half of 2009 and limited new capacity is scheduled to be completed in the near future," it said.