US coal exports have second best year ever, as strong demand attracts buyers

by Andrew Moore, SP Global

US coal exports totaled 104.9 million mt in 2018, up 19.3% from 2017 and the second highest total on record, according to US Census data out Wednesday.

The 2018 total was second only to the 114.2 million mt exported in 2012.

US producers benefited in 2018 from strong international markets, which helped increase demand. US thermal coal typically trades at a discount to global benchmarks because of higher sulfur content, while US metallurgical coal is particularly valued for its coking properties. In addition, a number of US thermal coal producers benefited from a partial petcoke ban in India, which also stoked demand.

For comparison, the S&P Global Platts CIF ARA assessment, for thermal coal (basis 6,000 kcal/kg) delivered into Northern Europe averaged $91.69/mt in 2018 compared with $84.78/mt in 2017, while the Platts assessment for Premium Low Vol met coal FOB Australia averaged $207.11/mt in 2018 compared with $187.99/mt in 2017.

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