The Coal Cartel ? Why Adani’s prospects haven’t improved

In my recent piece in The Guardian, mostly about Adani, I observed

The paradoxes of Adani are mirrored in the global coal market. Despite a small increase in 2017, global coal production is below its 2013 peak. Yet prices have recovered strongly, yielding big profits to existing miners and offering a seemingly tempting prospect for new mines.

It turns out that this isn’t quite right. The benchmark Newcastle price, for low-ash coal with a heat content of 6000kcal/kg has risen strongly, to the great benefit of companies like Yancoal, Glencore and Whitehaven. It turns out, however, that this increase isn’t representative of the broader market. Prices for lower quality coal with lower heat content and higher ash content haven’t moved at all, with the result that the premium between higher and lower grades has grown dramatically.

What’s going on here? One possible explanation is that Yancoal and Glencore, who produce the majority of Australia’s high-grade coal, have engaged in successful cartel behavior. Another is that the premium reflects shifts in demand (with China and India increasingly rejecting high ash coal, while Japan continues to demand high grade coal) and supply (few new mines are opening, and this has a bigger effect on the smaller market for high grade coal).

Whatever the explanation, most analysts agree that it is more likely to be resolved by a decline in the price of high-grade coal rather than an increase in the price of low-grade coal.

Where does Adani fit into all this. Most of the discussion I’ve found focuses on the premium between 6000kcal/kg and 5500 kcal/kg. Coal extracted from the Carmichael mine would be much lower quality, below 5000 kcal/kg.

15 thoughts on “The Coal Cartel ? Why Adani’s prospects haven’t improved

  1. In other coal news from CoalWire, the Indian central bank has refused to join a committee set up by the government to broker a bailout of the distressed coal plant owners and their bankers. A good cop / bad cop routine? At all events, this is not good news for either banks or generators. They will both have to take losses.

  2. I think the market for Australian coal exports will be strong for a long time yet. Demand will be strong from India and from South East Asia and from those North East Asian countries switching from nuclear. Chinese demands may have peaked but still a very large market. Companies like Soul Pattinson see expanding coal markets as their major growth driver. Their share prices have rocketed this year as have their coal-based profits.

  3. Ikonoclast’s links are interesting. The first provides “targets” the second provides (among other things) “outcomes” in terms of MWs of electricity generated from coal recent. As I read it the latter is still growing strongly.

  4. ” those North East Asian countries switching from nuclear.” AFAIK, there is only one such country, Korea which is also moving away from coal. China’s nuclear program has slowed, but plants are still being builit. Japan is gradually restarting plants after Fukushima.

  5. Growth in coal generation appears to be leveling off. At the current rate of deceleration of growth, it appears coal generation will peak world wide in about 2022. By 2030 the EU and OECD need to have no coal fired power generation at all for us to be any good chance of keeping AGW below +2C. That’s a tall order socioeconomically, if not technically.

  6. Japan’s building of new coal power plants is definitely bad. There is no doubt about that. But the Business Insider article doesn’t mention is the Japanese government is requiring power companies offset emissions elsewhere and the elsewhere is the shuttering of old coal power plants. So this is not likely to lead to an increase in coal consumption by Japan. If the new power stations are of higher efficiency it could reduce coal use.

  7. Japan is not nearly as good a case for coal as is suggested by the Business Insider article. Quite a few of the proposed plants have been cancelled, due to slow demand and competition from renewables.

    And one of the big builders of coal-fired plants, Marubeni has just announced a switch to renewables

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