Australia's coal miners face $17b export collapse

Australia's coal miners are headed for a $17 billion collapse in export earnings this year as the shock of the coronavirus crisis persists and more Asian power utilities switch from coal to gas.

The projected declines across 2020-21, contained in a federal government report to be released on Monday, come after a succession of coal companies reported sharp full-year profit contractions including New Hope Corporation, which took a 69 per cent hit, and Whitehaven Coal which fell 95 per cent.

The COVID-19 economic downturn has weighed heavily on export prices for Australia's thermal coal.

The COVID-19 economic downturn has weighed heavily on export prices for Australia's thermal coal.CREDIT:NIC WALKER

Swiss giant Glencore last week suspended operations at most of its coal mines in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales for at least a fortnight in a bid to curtail output in the face of falling demand.

Exports of metallurgical coal – the coal used in steelmaking – are projected to shrink 34 per cent from $35 billion to $23 billion as prices hover around four-year lows, according to the federal Industry Department, while thermal coal – used in power generation – is set to fall 25 per cent from $20 billion to $15 billion.

Describing the thermal coal market as "tumultuous", the report notes a combination of factors had driven thermal coal prices to levels not seen in 14 years. These included the virus-driven industrial downturn weighing on energy consumption, a hardening of China's import restrictions to support its local suppliers, and the ongoing transition away from coal-fired electricity to reduce emissions, the report said.

"At current prices, a significant proportion of Australian thermal coal production is loss-making," it said.

Read the full article published in the Sydney Morning Herald 28th September 2020