Guest Post: It's Time To Invest In Coal

Tyler Durden's picture

From Marin Katusa Of Casey Research

It’s Time To Invest In Coal

Coal prices are surging ahead even as most other commodities pull
back, spurred on by expectations that metallurgical and thermal coal
production will again fail to meet rising global demand this year. The
result? Record profits for major coal producers like Xstrata, a surge in
acquisitions from coal-hungry India, Chinese electricity shortages, and
a raging carbon tax debate in Australia amid record investments in that
country’s coal-heavy mining sector.

price spikes in the second half of 2008, which were completely
unsustainable and disappeared rapidly in the recession, distort the
picture. So instead, imagine the above graph without those peaks. What
you get is an almost sustained ascent in the spot prices of thermal and
metallurgical coal over the last four years. Metallurgical coal, which
is used to make steel and is also known as coking coal, has almost
doubled in price, climbing from just above US$80 per ton in mid-2007 to
more than US$160 per ton today. Thermal coal, which is burned to
generate electricity, has risen from the US$45 per ton range to almost
US$80 per ton.

There are a couple of countries that really take
notice when coal prices start to rock. Australia is the world’s biggest
coal exporter and relies on thermal coal for 80% of its electricity.
China mines more coal than any other country in the world but still
imports more to support its power and steel-making needs – the country
mines and burns more than three billion tons of the black stuff
annually. And India – where the economy is growing at 8% annually – is
facing multimillion ton coal shortages even as it works to halve a 14%
peak power deficit within two years.

Let’s start with Australia, a
country embroiled in a debate over newly introduced carbon taxes. Those
taxes are set to come online in mid-2012, ahead of a cap-and-trade
system that could begin as early as 2015. Proponents say the tax is
necessary to force a coal-reliant country to move toward cleaner
energies. However, the tax has drawn widespread criticism from the
nation’s huge coal industry. Australia supplies 19% of the world’s
thermal coal and 59% of its coking coal; these industries are worth A$18
million and A$40 million, respectively (2009 numbers). With coal prices
expected to keep rising for the next few years at least, Australian
coal miners had big expansion plans. Instead, if the carbon tax goes
ahead, the industry says it will have to close mines, meaning major tax
and job losses for the nation. Opponents of the tax also say it will
make Australia’s own energy more expensive and less reliable.

argument against the tax is that reducing Australia’s coal output could
in fact increase global carbon emissions, because power stations in
China and India would simply use dirtier coal to fill the gap.
Australia’s thermal coal is perhaps the best in the world, with high
energy content and few impurities. Thermal coal from Indonesia has only
70% of the energy value of Australian thermal coal, which means that
much more coal would have to be mined, processed, and shipped.

the context of this very current, heated debate – the Australian
coalition government is set to meet this weekend to hammer out the
details of the tax – a new report from the Australian Bureau of
Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences shows that planned
investments in the country’s mining sector have soared to a record
A$173.5 billion. The figure represents development plans for 94
projects, including 35 mineral projects, 35 energy projects, 20
infrastructure projects, and four processing projects. The Bureau
estimates A$55.5 billion in mining-industry expenditures in the current
year alone.

A fair chunk of these investments will come from coal
companies, which have money to spend because the current coal prices are
providing record profits. Xstrata, the world’s largest exporter of
thermal coal, is expected to report an 83% gain in net income this year,
according to a Bloomberg compilation of analysts’
expectations. Another good example comes from Arch Coal (N.ACI), which
recently tendered a $3.4 billion offer for International Coal Group
(N.ICO) aimed at creating Australia’s second largest metallurgical coal

China is another major coal producer, but there the
issue is coal shortages. The country’s economy is steaming ahead at a
10% growth rate, and that kind of development requires a lot of steel.
This year alone, China is facing a shortfall of 56 million tonnes of
metallurgical coal – the country is expected to produce 513 million
tonnes, but consumption will reach 569 million tonnes. The Asian giant
imported 47 million tonnes in 2010, helped by a 278% increase in imports
from Mongolia. And even though domestic coking coal production is
expected to increase by 80 million tonnes per year by 2015, China’s
latest estimates predict a 100-million-tonne annual shortfall in coking
coal by 2015.

It is not just coking coal that China needs.
Shortfalls in thermal coal supplies are the main culprit in an expected
30-million kW summer power deficit. And the problem is exacerbated by
the fact that the country’s electricity pricing system has not kept up
with coal price increases. Plants sell electricity to the State Grid
Corp. of China (SGCC) at a set price, and SGCC then resells to
consumers. But the set price has not kept pace with coal prices. As
such, coal-fired generators lose money for every ton of coal they burn,
which is not exactly an incentive to produce more power. Over the past
three years, China’s top five state-owned power generating plants have
lost some 60 billion yuan, while SGCC posted a 40-billion-yuan profit
last year alone.

China is expecting to face its worst power
shortage in years this summer. Widespread droughts, which have decimated
the country’s hydropower capacities, are not helping. As many as 20
provinces and territories have already been put on power rationing,
including the country’s industrial heartland. Some 44 major industries
in Zhejiang (a manufacturing hub near Shanghai) have been told to limit
consumption or face prohibitive tariffs. The story is much the same in
Guangdong, south China’s manufacturing hub. And producing more coal is
not an option – the government has acknowledged that China is near its
peak coal production capacity.

To continue on a familiar theme,
India is also facing an acute coal shortage. In April, for example, the
nation imported 32 million tonnes of thermal coal against a total
requirement of 36.9 million tonnes. At the end of March, 26 of India’s
thermal power stations reported having only critical stocks of coal,
including ten stations with fewer than four days’ worth of fuel. On
Monday, the prime minister convened an emergency meeting to discuss the
coal shortages, which are expected to total 112 million tonnes over the
next 12 months.

India has been working to address the coal void
for some time now. Indian firms have been scouring the globe for coal
assets, and the effort has secured several major deals: Indian
conglomerate Adani is set to buy the 25-million-tonne-per-year coal
export terminal as Abbot Point in Queensland, only a year after buying
the Galilee coal project in Australia for $2.7 billion; Indian trader
Knowledge Infrastructure signed a joint venture deal with Indonesian
miner PT OSO International to develop thermal coal mines in Kalimantan;
and three Indian firms are among those shortlisted to buy Australian
coal explorer Bandanna Energy, a deal expected to top $1 billion.

India, which produces 80% of the country’s coal, is not going to be
left out of the shopping spree. A few months ago, the company set aside
$1.2 billion for overseas buys, specifically in Australia, Indonesia,
and the U.S. And it has the money – net income for the first quarter
totaled $931 million and full-year profits were up 13%. Shares in Coal
India started trading Nov. 4 after the government raised $3.2 billion by
selling a 10% stake, in the country’s largest public offering to date.

story could go on, discussing other coal-needy countries like Japan,
South Korea, Germany, and so on, but perhaps the point has been made.
Global production is maxed out with respect to existing infrastructure,
so increases from here can only occur as quickly as new mines, rail
lines, and ports can be built. Coal prices have been climbing steadily,
based on real supply constraints, and most industry watchers agree that
they will hold their ground or continue to climb for the next few years.

Those countries with coal should count their blessings.

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Rodent Freikorps's picture


The EPA is currently trying to destroy the Texas energy production that uses coal.

The commies in charge want energy so expensive, old people die due to lack of a/c.

Coal is dead unless you are willing to hang the EPA.

KickIce's picture

To the junker(s)

Obama:  "When I was asked earlier about the issue of coal…under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket…even regardless of what I say about whether coal is good or bad, because I’m capping greenhouse gasses, coal power plants, natural gas…you name it…whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retro-fit their operations. "

While Congress has been unable to get a bill passed the EPA has taken it upon themselves to enforce a  green agenda and several energy plants have threatened shut downs or layoffs.


CombustibleAssets's picture

Wait til the next administration...

swissaustrian's picture

I´ve tried to find ways to invest in coal for a long time.

The problem is, I couldn´t find any futures / options / etf´s / etn´s etc.

Buying coal miners like rio tinto or bhp which make about 50% of their revenues from coal seems to be the only way to invest in coal besides buying physical or creating an otc derivative...

bugs_'s picture

Certainly after THE RESTRUCTURING EVENT (post collapse) coal should enjoy a renaissance - the feds that are left will have a lot more on their plates than enforcing carbon standards.

digalert's picture

Not in the USA!


"I'll bankrupt the Coal industry"

"your energy prices wil skyrocket"

P-K4's picture

The basic premise is true about coal being valuable, the administration is looking to provide all US citizens with nuggets this xmas, ilo capital gains distributions... but you're not allowed to burn it without an expensive permit.

citta vritti's picture

+1 stocking, but there’s a run in it

CrashisOptimistic's picture

It's not going to matter, folks.  You can't pour coal into car, truck, ship, tractor or plane fuel tanks.

In the end, that's all that's going to matter.

Katow-jo's picture

Not true.  Coal can be converted into synthetic gasoline, in fact there's a large company in South Africa that does just that.  Their name is Sasol, so if you're looking to invest in coal I'd bet that is a good pick. 

CrashisOptimistic's picture

Their name is indeed Sasol and they've been doing it for about 50 years, and in that 50 years they've reached about 250K lousy barrels/day.  And that's where they are capped by local water supply.

Don't throw out glib suggestions like this.  If you think they are good place for your money, maybe you thought the same thing 50 years ago.

In the meantime, we need 85 million, not hundreds of thousands, MILLIONS of barrels per day.

CrashisOptimistic's picture

Their name is indeed Sasol and they've been doing it for about 50 years, and in that 50 years they've reached about 250K lousy barrels/day.  And that's where they are capped by local water supply.

Don't throw out glib suggestions like this.  If you think they are good place for your money, maybe you thought the same thing 50 years ago.

In the meantime, we need 85 million, not hundreds of thousands, MILLIONS of barrels per day.

Katow-jo's picture

Yes, they don't produce 85 million barrels a day.  But they're stock price has gone pretty much straight up since November 2008.  There will be alternative energy, whether it completely replaces petroleum or not.


Another company to watch is Syntroleum.

i-dog's picture

It's time to start thinking local, instead of a single centrally planned solution to the energy shortage/conundrum. It is going to become necessary anyway, with the breakdown of central governments in the coming years.

When TSHTF, there will be no central planners (other than a military dictatorship fighting local communities ... much as we have now, but worse!).

Local communities should each develop what works best for them:

  • wind farms in a windy community
  • solar farms in a sunny community
  • hydroelec in a river community
  • coal-fired near coal mines
  • oil-fired near oil fields
  • geothermal where accessible
  • ethanol fuel in self-sustaining agricultural areas
  • hybrid vehicles where local electricity is adequate for recharging
  • even small nuclear, if they can afford the insurance premium
  • horse and cart where nobody has done anything else yet!
  • other entrepreneurial solutions as they arise

In the early days of rail, hand-shoveled coal and wood were the fuels. Then onboard diesel tanks replaced the labour, then electrification centralised the 'fuel' generation. Electric maglev is probably the future, even for long distance freight -- irrespective of the cost (if it's too expensive, it won't be built and remote communities will need to become more self-sustaining).

It seems to me that a single replacement for hydrocarbons is simple-minded wishful thinking. Of course, the central planners would like a single central solution ... but it certainly ain't gonna happen in the short term (or the long-term either, in my view).

Resistance to local solutions by central planners is purely because of the centralised, state-owned power generation paradigm (which is relatively recent and was first pushed by FDR in 1933 with the TVA). Even under privatisation - whether voluntarily or IMF-enforced - the oligarchs love it! ... because they can acquire just one entity and use the state's guns to maintain the state-enforced monopoly, instead of having to compete with thousands of more practical and efficient local solutions.

Reverting to local solutions under local ownership - whether capitalist or co-operative - will regenerate employment, build local wealth and satisfy local needs. What a novel idea!?!

End the Feds!! (Federal Reserve and

Element's picture

End the Feds!! (Federal Reserve and

It's even simpler, end the TBTFs, and all the rest follows.

i-dog's picture

I don't understand your logic ... they only got TBTF because of government protection and a government decree!

GM, AIG, Lehman, etc would have just withered away without the Feds to protect ( and feed (FRB) them.

Perhaps you could enlighten me?

Element's picture

Sorry for the delay i-dog, have not been in here all week.

Who owns the TBTF?

Who owns the Fed?

Who bought and owns the sock-puppets who pretend to originate 'lawz'?

Does "audit the Fed" end the Fed, if the TBTF were the ones who set up the whole thing, so the TBTF could do what they have done?

How can a Govt of analyse econ-data or take economic decisions and make plans, when the Fed printz, and the TBTF's algo networks stir in QE, and then call it a 'market', where there is no real pricing, volume or investment?

If there is printing the market rises, if not, it falls ... if the FedSatan printz in Sept, the market will rise.

It's feckin Pavlovian! And this only occurs because the TBTFs have divorced the mechanism of the


that powers a real market, divorced from affordable demand, non-misallocated credit, REAL production, and inventories.

The investmernt mechanism (that's what the NYSE is supposed to be!) is smashed, the TBTFs poisoned it, and sucked out its brain.

The upshot is, the US Govt, OBAMA, has handed over the keys of the kingdom (monetary and fiscal policy, and economic 'planning') to Goldman Sachs and such.

The Federal Govt is no longer in control of it.

The Joo-confetti machine is.


End the TBTF and all the rest follows, as the Fed and the puppeteers and puppets then all come unhinged.

I thought this went without saying - my bad mate.

i-dog's picture

OK. I get your point now, Element ... and you are right about the JPM-GS Gang controlling the US money supply ... but the rabbit hole goes much deeper and broader than that. And non-jews have a major hand in it.

That JPM-GS Gang is working to an agenda that is controlled by "another level of government altogether" (to quote a Privy Councillor) than the one we see in the MSM. The rabbit hole is also much older than the rise of the Rothschilds and zionists to real wealth and influence.

If you are looking at the Jooz, then you are only watching the magician's right hand while his left hand is still hidden behind his back! (The jooz really only came into the power picture in the early 19th century, and were only able to intermarry into the Wasp establishment--thereby merging banker and industrialist wealth with establishment land and power--towards the end of that century. Jooz were still not accepted into Skull & Bones until the 1970s - apart from one Rockefeller in the 1920s).

To start to see what I mean, take a look into the Pilgrims Society (here) and the ancestral connections in the bio's of most of its members.

Most say "follow the money", but I say "follow the blood ... since they already have access to more than enough wealth and power".


puntme's picture

liquefied coal bitch

Greeny's picture

Coal? Common now, lets all go back in the stone age and

start burning the trees.. F*ck Coal, we have enormous amount

of Natural Gas.. It's clean, cheap and All Made in USA.

Coal my A$$ :))))

Confused's picture

Not a coincidence. Seems like someone knows what direction things are going. Peak oil?

Rodent Freikorps's picture

EPA is going after NatGas as well. Where have y'all been?

CrashisOptimistic's picture

For God's sake, look things up.

Nat gas, methane, CH4, has 1/1000th the energy density of oil in gaseous form.  If you want to cryocool it for liquid form, you burn energy doing that.

Oil is oil for a reason.  It's amazing stuff.  It powered the 20th century from 1 billion population to 7 billion.  As it becomes unavailable, so will food for the 7 billion.

Billions are going to die.  And it won't be over a century.  It will be over 5-10 yrs.

Rodent Freikorps's picture

And yet the EPA is still gonna fuck with it.

Makes you wonder just what their agenda is.

Diogenes's picture

Lol don't tell me people still believe in Global Warming? Don't they ever stick their head out the window?

Boop's picture

Yah: Climate Change: It's bad and getting worse

Also: A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!

I'll refrain from wondering if people ever pull their heads out of their asses.

buzzsaw99's picture

bullshit. very little of that 85 mb/d goes into food production/distribution. Billions may die but jamie dimon's yacht will still be fueled.

Boop's picture

Very little of nothing left is still nothing left.  And Jamie Dimon's yacht will have to be moored off of Saudi Arabia or some other country that has oil for internal consumption once there's nothing left for export.

Nothing To See Here's picture

But... but... Al Gore says that I should not buy coal. He does probably, but he surely has good reasons.

sellstop's picture

Coal is available and plentiful.

If the price is going up, still, then we are going back to the inflation thingy..

The tape says the selling is about over.

Enough of this deflation thingy...


PulauHantu29's picture

I have done very well with KOL, the ETF for coal.

sanspointe's picture

Can't see taxing carbon at the source taking hold in Australia. The current debate is for polluters that use coal and not miners of. If and when a carbon tax is introduced shall thus make little difference on coal prices.

HungrySeagull's picture

No need to panic. King Coal will run the world on steam forever.

You could say Amtrack's Northeast corridor with it's nuke juiced wires is run by coal when it needs to.


Also, how easily we forgot about two winters ago when old Londoners were buying huge big books that burn so slowly instead of a bucket of coal. They essentially emptied the dusty book stores in the area. The bigger, dustier and older, the better.

rsnoble's picture

Boy we just seem to move from one mess of fucking shit to another don't we.  I think here in the US we need to declare the gov't and the Fed a threat to national security and have the military take their worthless asses over.

Still working on my hillbilly foundry, currently building a charcoal maker out of 2 55 gallon steel drums and lots of bricks.  Get scraps and make charcoal for my metal furnaces.  I'm sure the fucking cock suckers at the EPA would just love my ass and probably will attempt to shut all us hobbyist down as well. 

Cap n trade, carbon tax? get fucking real who are the real benefactors of this horseshit? Al fucking Gore with his 7 AC unit mansion??  Die motherfuckers.

HungrySeagull's picture

Austrian wood gas comes to mind Neighbor.

Cruel Aid's picture

Nice rant.

Al and his ilk, including EPA thugs, want the Carbon Xchange market. It will rear its ugly head again. It's hibernating due to the economy and Ice Storms.

keating's picture

Coal's future will grow when new Coal to Liquid technology, in particular the new process developed at U Texas Arlington where CTL costs are very low and getting lower. The future will be coal mines everywhere, and CTL plants next to them, producing solid coal or liquid fuel as the market demands...It could be that the price of a gallon of gas would go back below a dollar...not bad, eh?

stopthenewworldorder's picture

the issue for ctl is simply one of cost of feedstock, i have posted about this before but tend to get shouted down by the monkeys.  mining coal (or using natural gas for that matter) for feedstock is neither scaleable or economic - the future is what linc energy do which is underground coal gasification which generates feedstock for the ctl process that works out at one tenth of sasol, syntroleum etc etc - means you can produce a barrel of synthetic deisel for around $28.  foding and peabody looking to do a jv in powder river basin with this company