Record China imports unlikely to excite coal market: Clyde Russell

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SummaryEven a slackening to half of 2012's pace would still see China absorb the entire available additional coal.

16 million tonnes from a year earlier, according to trade sources.

Already, India has imported 90 million tonnes from April to November, a gain of 27 percent over the same period in 2011, and the signs are that this growth rate will accelerate further over the whole financial year to end March.

It seems for now the coal market doesn't believe the rising demand from China and India is sustainable, or that supply will increase by more than expected.

It's also probably the case that China's appetite for imports is because prices are low, making imported coal competitive with domestic supplies.

Looking at the breakdown of China's coal imports shows that higher quality supplies have been gaining, with Australia supplying almost one-third of December's volumes.

Australia shipped 9.7 million tonnes to China in December, a gain of 165 percent on the year-earlier month, taking the increase for the whole of 2012 to 82.6 percent.

In contrast, Indonesia managed to increase exports to China by 5.3 percent in 2012, just managing to hold onto its status as the top supplier.

Australian coal generally has more energy and is cleaner burning that the more low-rank supplies from Indonesia, so it appears that Chinese buyers are taking advantage of low regional prices to change to buying better quality coal.

This implies that currently the good export volumes being achieved are a function of the low prevailing prices, and even if prices do rise, there may well be a pullback in both Chinese and Indian demand for seaborne coal.

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