A drop in ships destined for the world’s biggest coal port of Newcastle has this week sparked concerns that the tide has turned for Australian coal – and beyond.
The Newcastle Port Authority reported for the week ending 31 August that 21 coal vessels had notified arrival times allocated or were in transit to the port compared with 35 the previous week. This was reportedly a 13-month low, with ship visits usually fluctuating between 30 to 40 each week.
The Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator monthly throughput report, posted on its website, predicted that September ship nominations were currently at 5.9 Mt. Based on terminal demand the queue at PWCS was estimated to be less than 10 at the end of the month.
Shorter ship queues usually indicated marginal demand for coal, Platts this week reported. However according to Port Waratah Coal, exports are on track to match last year.
“Ships come and go, but we are still shipping a lot of coal,” Paul Chamberlain, Port Waratah Coal told IHS Maritime. “We shipped out just over 10 million tonnes in August, our best month since December 2014, which was the best ever. Prices are not great at the moment, but volumes are close to last year and that was a record for us.”
Debate over whether the slump in world demand for coal, especially thermal coal that dominates the Newcastle trade, is cyclical or indicates a structural decline has been getting louder in recent months.
Tim Buckley, The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) holds that thermal coal is in its death throes.
“Seaborne thermal coal is in structural decline,” he told IHS Maritime. “China coal imports are down 34% year to date in July.”