China coal traders shrug off impact of Indonesia coal export ban due to stockpiles, weak demand
- Coal stocks at key Chinese utilities in coastal regions were about 33 million tonnes as of Saturday last week, 57 per cent more than at the same time in 2021
- Indonesia, the world’s largest thermal coal exporter, announced a shock ban on shipments on Saturday last week to avert domestic power outages.
Coal traders in China, the world’s top consumer and importer of the fuel, are shrugging off a ban on coal exports imposed by Indonesia, saying utilities already hold hefty stockpiles with power demand set to weaken for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Coal stocks at key Chinese utilities in coastal regions were about 33 million tonnes as of Saturday last week, 57 per cent more than at the same time in 2021, data from the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association showed.
Meanwhile, daily coal consumption by China’s power plants is currently flat versus last year at 2.2 million to 2.3 million tonnes – and expected to slump in the coming weeks when factories shut for the week-long Lunar New Year celebration and as Beijing orders reduced activity to ensure clear skies for the Winter Olympic Games.
“If we are not expecting any [extreme] cold [weather] waves, there would be no other factors to drive up coal demand in the near term,” said one Jilin-based coal trader who declined to be identified.
Utilities in the region are fully relying on long-term contract supplies from domestic mines, and do not need to purchase from the spot market at the moment, he said.
That surge in domestic output not only met demand from utilities through late 2021, but also replenished stockpiles for power generators so they are now less reliant on imports than in 2021, when imports jumped by around 10 per cent from 2020.
In fact, traders said, the combinations of high stocks and weakening demand had been expected to drive coal prices lower – before the Indonesian ban came along to provide price support.
Since the ban was announced, Indonesian miners have moved to rectify the country’s stockpile shortfall by committing millions of tonnes to domestic power producers. National authorities also pledged to review the ban as early as Wednesday.
But as of Friday the export impasse remains in place, triggering worsening ship congestion off Indonesia’s coal ports and mounting frustration among key importers like major buyer Japan, which made an official request to Jakarta to scrap the ban.
In top buyer China, however, market participants are more concerned about potential fresh downward pressure on prices once Indonesian coal flows do resume with domestic output still high.
Analysts from Orient Futures forecast China’s coal production capacity to reach about 4.58 billion tonnes in 2022, up from 4.33 billion in 2021, including the 230 million tonnes of resumed production capacity approved by Beijing last year to ease the electricity shortage.
“It is almost certain that we would see oversupply and a coal price plunge soon if the domestic output boom continues,” said a Beijing-based coal trader.