Coking coal may breach $300/tonne in the next quarter: SAIL & JSW may be impacted, not Tata Steel
Sharad Matade 11 January 2011

Unprecedented flash floods in Australia, coupled with a possible hike in Chinese consumption may fuel prices of the black gold 

Indian steel producers may see a sharp surge in April-June contract prices of coking coal as the floods in Australia-the worst in 50 years-have disturbed mining and global supply of the commodity.

Contracts for coking coal prices in the next quarter are likely to firm up at around $300 per tonne from the current January-March contract prices of $225 per tonne as the worst floods in Queensland, Australia, have affected mining and shipping operations, according to analysts.

The current situation in Australia has already led to an increase of coking coal prices to $250-$260 per tonne in spot markets.

Around 70% of India's coking coal needs are met by imports; out of that, around 85% of these volumes are imported from Down Under.

"Contract prices are determined by spot market prices. But right now, it's difficult to predict the quantum of the hike for April-June contract prices. But the market is expecting the upper (price) limit of $300 per tonne if the current situation in Australia does not improve," an analyst from a foreign research firm told Moneylife, requesting anonymity.

"It's too early to give any price outlook for the next quarter. The price momentum for this quarter (January-March) also depends on the (improvement of the) flood situation in Australia. Currently, coking coal prices in spot markets are around $275 per tonne," Arun Kumar Jagatramka, chairman and managing director, Gujarat NRE Coke Ltd told Moneylife.

Gujarat NRE Coke's operations in Western Australia have not been affected, added Mr Jagatramka.

This month, Indian steel companies have already hiked prices of their various products in the range of 3% to 5%, due to the rising prices of raw materials-coking coal and iron ore.

Queensland accounts for 57% and 10% of the global supply of coking coal and iron ore, respectively.

According to analysts from UBS Securities Pte Ltd, heavy rains and flooding in Queensland have disrupted almost 40% of global coking coal supply. However, experts say that the current flood situation will not affect Indian steel companies' operations in this quarter.

"Right now, for this quarter (January-March), Indian steel companies would not face many problems, as they already have sufficient stock of coking coal," an analyst from a research firm told Moneylife.

"If the current picture remains the same, then prices of coking coal will shoot up," added the analyst.

Major Indian steel companies-including Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and JSW Steel-largely depend on Australian coking coal imports, while Tata Steel meets about 60% of its coking coal requirements from its own captive mines.

Analysts believe that rising prices of coking coal and iron ore may impact margins and profits of SAIL and JSW, while Tata Steel would be comparatively less affected.

SAIL is likely to import 10-11 million tonnes (MT) of coking coal during the year ending March, while JSW Steel may import around 10MT to meet its expansion operations. Tata Steel may require around 6MT for its Indian operations.
   
All major miners-including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Anglo American-have entered the force majeure clause in their contracts, a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event beyond the control of the parties, prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.                                              

Glyn Lawcock, head of the UBS Australian Mining and Energy Team, has been quoted in media reports as saying that it is "difficult" to quantify the impact of the floods in Australia, or predict when operations will normalise. However, he says that some mines, dependent on the weather, will return to "normal" by early February.

Along with mining operations in Queensland, transportation has also been disrupted badly.

Production growth in China, the world's largest steel producer and consumer, will also play a major role in the prices of coking coal.

"If China continues its current production capacity of around 50MT per month in the midst of scarcity of coking coal, then it would also be another reason for prices of the commodity to go up," the analyst said.

World crude steel production for the first 11 months of 2010 increased by 16.2% to 114MT compared with the year-ago period.

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