Australian coal miners to take fresh price hit with Japanese buyers to pay less


Australian thermal coal miners are set to take another price hit, with Japanese power utilities close to agreeing to a contract price that will be more than 10 per cent below last year’s contract price.

The annual round of price negotiations with the Japanese buyers is close to completion, and Marian Hookham from coal data provider IHS said the Japanese customers were increasingly reluctant to pay a premium.

Japanese utilities have traditionally purchased more than half of Australian thermal coal, and the annual contract price has traditionally been set higher than the market or “spot” price.

But with coal markets oversupplied and prices in the doldrums, the premium paid for security of supply is increasingly being questioned.

“There has been a recognition in Japan that the power utilities are paying a premium to Australian suppliers and they’ve basically starting asking why are we doing it,” Ms Hookham said.

“The coal volumes attached to this [Japanese power utility contract] are smaller than in previous years and therefore it will exert less influence.”

Spot prices
Ms Hookham said some Japanese utilities were experimenting with lower quality coals, and were buying more coal on the spot market.

The annual Japanese contract price, which particularly affects Hunter Valley producers such as Glencore and Rio Tinto, was set at just over $US67 per tonne in April 2015.

That price was well below the $US81.80 per tonne agreed to in autumn 2014, and the more than $US129 per tonne set in 2011.

Spot prices for thermal coal at Newcastle have risen slightly since January 1, but when asked if the Japanese contract could also be set higher, Ms Hookham said: “Almost certainly not.”

Ms Hookham said power company Tohoku and miner Glencore were leading the negotiations on behalf of the two sectors.

“We understand that Tohoku is looking at around a $US57 per tonne number, and Glencore is pushing for around a $US60 per tonne number,” she said.

RBC Capital Markets expect spot prices for the benchmark thermal coal from Newcastle to average $US55 per tonne in 2016, down from $US59 per tonne in 2015.

The spot price was fetching $US54.25 per tonne last week.

Adani’s Charmichael project
RBC is tipping 2016 will be the nadir for Australian thermal coal prices, forecasting the commodity to fetch $US65 per tonne by 2018.

The gloomy conditions for thermal coal miners come after Indian company Adani was awarded three coal licences for its Carmichael project in Queensland on the weekend.

Gaining the licences will allow Adani to restart some pre-engineering work on the project, and eventually resume efforts to secure finance for the project ahead of a final investment decision.

Project finance has been harder to come by since the fading of the resources boom, and more than a dozen large financial institutions have already declared they will not fund the Carmichael project.

Export credit agencies
Other post-boom ventures, such as Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project, have relied heavily on export credit agencies to kickstart the financing process.

The $US7.2 billion ($9.4 billion) Roy Hill financing involved five export credit agencies from the US, Korea and Japan, while smaller contractors to Roy Hill were also supported financially by Australia’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC).

Export credit agencies tend to give projects some credibility in the eyes of commercial lenders, who often have more confidence in a project once the agencies are on board.

But EFIC is unlikely to help fund the Carmichael project because a recent update to its “statement of expectations” precludes the organisation from funding Australian resource projects, the corporation instead focusing on helping small and medium-sized enterprises win work abroad.

Taurus acquisition
Meanwhile Anglo American continues to liquidate its portfolio of marginal Australian coking coal mines, agreeing in principle to sell its Foxleigh mine in Queensland to a consortium led by Sydney firm Taurus Funds Management.

It is the second coal acquisition Taurus has been linked to in Australia in the past year. Taurus provided finance to Stanmore Coal in 2015 before it bought the marginal Isaac Plains coking coal mine from Vale and Sumitomo.

Taurus has in recent years been a lender to higher-risk mining plays, including Tiger Resources’ Kipoi copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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