Logistics, Ports & Terminals, Mining and Heavy Industries

Coal exports hold firm at Newcastle despite slumping price

Coal ships loading at Newcastle. Photo: Southern Cross Maritime

Newcastle has bounced back from a slow start to 2016 with solid coal exports in March and April.

The major New South Wales bulk port averaged 13.18 million tonnes (mt) of coal exports per month in 2015, but opened 2016 with softer figures in January (11.93mt) and February (12.79mt).

Exports rebounded in March, however, with 13.48mt of coal leaving the port, and a solid month in April (12.95mt) has helped the port get back towards its average rate from a year ago.

As of the end of April 51.15mt of coal had been exported from Newcastle in 2016, an average of 12.79mt per month, down just 390,000 tonnes per month compared to the average last year.

Despite the slight volume dip in 2016, the number of ships visiting the port has remained stable.

An average of 141 coal ships visited the port every month through to April 2016, down just one ship per month compared to 2015.

What that means is the average volume exported by each bulk ship has gone down slightly in 2016: through the first four months, coal ships left port with an average of 90,570 tonnes of coal aboard.

This was down around 2.4% compared to the average figure in 2015, which was 92,800 per coal ship.

While the trend means coal exporting from Newcastle is essentially slightly less efficient in 2016 than it was last year, the news will likely be welcomed by port services businesses (e.g. tugs, towage and pilotage businesses), who are essentially seeing no dip in business despite the slumping price of coal, and the slight dip in export volumes.

Thermal coal bottomed out in January at US$53.37 per tonne, and has hovered around the US$55 mark since then.

The thermal coal price has fallen 18% since January 2015, 37% since January 2014, and 45% since January 2013.

Coal prices have been dropping since their recent peak in 2011, as miners from Australia, South America, Europe and elsewhere maintained output despite slowing demand. Coal is being replaced with other energy sources in many key regions, leading to a significant oversupply in the seaborne market.

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