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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chinese demand for coal imports to moderate in 2012 - Barclays' Miswin Mahesh

Thursday, 06 October 11

We expect Chinese demand growth forimported steam coal to moderate over the next year. Steam coal imports into China will moderate not because of a slowdown in actual coal utilization domestically, but because of key developments on the domestic supplies and internal transportation front leading to lesser requirement for imported coal. Domestic production growth is expected to remain robust catching up with demand while sizeable advances on the railing front are likely to alleviate some of the current problems in allocating coal to the South Eastern consuming regions.

In 2012, the Chinese domestic market appears to be well balanced, although and although we are not ruling out a complete alleviation of all the transportation bottlenecks; we do see a situation developing over the next two to three years where the 20 to 30% transportation cost premium attached to the final delivery of domstic coal is likely to fade away. Further on the demand side, structurally as well, the relationship between the coal mining sector and the power utilities in China is set to change as well as improve further with the roll out of the so called ''coal power bases'', 13 of them located in the northern and western region will mean power is generated close to where the mines themeselves are located. And the power will be carried via high voltage transmission lines to the high density consuming regions in the southern and eastern part of the country.

Essentially meaning that power itself will be transported rather than the current flow of coal being transported. Which would further ease pressure on rail capacity along with the new capacity being added. Further the completion of the consolidation of mines would mean that the smaller mines will not be disadvantaged over competition amongst its peers while bidding for using the rail capacity. Which we further think will help reduce the transportation costs associated with the price of domestic coal delivered to the utilities. Overall in number terms, our 2012 projection is for imports to remain relatively flat y/y (up 1%) at 95mt, after falling more than 10% in 2011. Though import forecasts are flate, overall Chinese coal demand is expected to grow strongly in 2012-15, with a draft of the 12th five year plan published in June indicating that about 300GW of new additions of coal-fired plants are planned in the next five years,(which is slightly higher than the 280GW installed from 2005-10). Interestingly more than 60% of the 290GW of coal plants due online will be found in the large coal-producing bases (where the close to 100 mt per coal-power base (13 of them)are scheduled to be formed).

Overall, over the next five years though both demand as well as domestic supply are likely to grow strongly with a sort of self sufficiency being created, the timeline over this period is of great interest.With supply likely to come online in bulk in two to three years while demand will increase over the five year period in a step by step manner, possibly creating a period in the future where supplies would comfortably meet demand, but as demand builds up following the bulk entry of supplies, then we would once again see China's appetite for imported coal building again, but this should likely happen only in the long term.

The Indian market continues to consume on a structural deficit, and we expect Indian imports to rise by 18% to about 108 mt, following the 19% y/y growth seen this year. The Coal Minister has suggested that India could be importing about 250mt of coal per year by 2015, which would be more than double this year’s import level. India’s domestic market production growth has been slowed by uncertainty regarding environmental regulations impacting land acquisition as well as a lack of infrastructure to transport coal out of mines, leading to a build-up of pithead stocks. Further though we see a lot of projects in the pipeline for expanding domestic supplies, their start dates are being pushed forward given the time it takes to get forest clearance as well as environmental clearance (taking years on average). Adding to the woes of the mining industry is the new bill passed which requires coal miners to share 26% of profits with their local communities. We expect Indian demand growth for imported coal to grow healthily over the 2012 period and beyond.

For 2012, the global coal supply chain is looking a lot healthier, barring further weather related supply disruptions we could see benchmark coal prices to ease by 5% on average next year. For 2011, we expect API2 to average $123/t, API4 to average $119/t, Newcastle to average $125/t. For 2012, we expect API to average $115/t, API4 to average $111/t and Newcastle to average $120/t.

About Miswin Mahesh
Miswin Mahesh is a commodities analyst at Barclays Capital in London, specializing in the coal, freight and crude oil markets. Miswin is a graduate of the Duisenberg School of Finance in Amsterdam.

He graduated with a double masters, an MSc in Corporate Finance and Banking and a Masters degree in International Finance from the University of Amsterdam. Miswin builds his insight on international trade flows from his experience in the Middle East, India, Africa and Europe.

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