China's 2019 coal imports set to rise more than 10pc: Analysts

Published: October 23, 2019 00:33:08

A labourer loading coal in a truck next to containers outside a logistics centre near Tianjin Port, in northern China — Reuters

China, the world's top coal buyer, is on track to boost imports of the fuel by more than 10 per cent this year, traders and analysts said on Tuesday, countering earlier expectations that shipments would be capped by Beijing at the same level as 2018, reports Reuters.

China's coal imports have already surged 9.5 per cent in the first nine months of 2019 to 250.57 million tonnes, customs data shows, and at least 18.84 million tonnes of seaborne coal are due to arrive this month, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv.

With China typically bringing in about 7.0 million tonnes more a month on trucks and trains from Mongolia and Russia, total volumes are likely to reach 276 million tonnes well before the end of the year.

Last year's total was 281.23 million tonnes.

"Signs are emerging of a modest recovery in coal import volumes into China, which has led to recent market speculation that the Chinese government may allow a relatively modest uplift in annual imports to around 300 million tonnes," said Whitehaven Coal Ltd, Australia's largest independent coal producer, in a note on Tuesday.

Energy consultancy IHS Markit expects that China may bring in around 320 million tonnes of coal this year.

Some Singapore-based coal traders forecast Chinese coal imports could reach at least 305 million tonnes.

The rise in imports comes even after Beijing has pledged to curb coal use to tackle persistent severe pollution in the world's top energy market. Last year it took drastic measures to cap its shipments, halting all clearance of coal cargoes at major ports in December, which sent imports plunging to just 10 million tonnes that month, down from an average monthly level of 22 million tonnes.

"Government priority at this moment is to boost the economy ... Relaxing coal imports curb would help maintain a moderate coal price and therefore cut electricity prices in order to reduce energy costs for Chinese enterprises," said Liu Xiaomin, analyst at IHS Markit in Beijing.

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