Washington, 9 August (Argus) — US coal exports reached a monthly record 12.8mn short tons (11.6mn metric tonnes) in June to finish the first half at a pace that suggests 2012 shipments could attain an all-time annual high even if demand slows.
June exports were 41pc above the same month of 2011 and surpassed April's previous record of 12.5mn st. Year-to-date shipments totaled 66.2mn st. That is 24pc higher than the first half of 2011 and more than half the record 109mn st set in 1981.
Export demand has been a bright spot for US coal, and some producers have shifted focus to overseas markets as domestic sales wane. But market participants are warning that second-half exports are slowing. Alpha Natural Resources yesterday said thermal coal export contract activity has dwindled recently because the market is inundated, and CSX yesterday said it expects exports to slow in the second half but that for the full year they will still exceed 201's levels.
In June, exports rose to every continent except to Australia and elsewhere in North America. Europe continued to be the biggest US customer, taking 5.29mn st of coal. But Asia was close behind, with 4.93mn st.
The amount of coal that went to Asia was more than double the 2.21mn st it took in June 2011. Exports to China more than quadrupled to 1.98mn st in June from the 367,055st it took a year earlier and were up slightly from May's 1.97mn st.
More than two-thirds of the coal that went to China, 1.36mn st, was metallurgical grade. The distribution to other Asian countries was almost equally heavily weighted toward coking coal. Of the 2.95mn st of coal taken by other countries in Asia, 59pc was metallurgical.
Roughly half of the coal Europe took, 2.64mn st, was thermal.
Coking coal's share of total exports declined to 54pc from 64pc in June 2011, but was up from 49pc in May. US ports shipped 6.94mn st of metallurgical coal in June, compared with 5.79mn st a year earlier and 5.95mn st in May.
Sub-bituminous coal shipments rose to 685,267st from 520,832st a year earlier but were down from May's 1.03mn st.
The Norfolk Census district that includes all of Hampton Roads, Virginia, was the busiest port in June, shipping 5.01mn st of coal. New Orleans followed with 2.63mn st and Baltimore handled 2.59mn st. All were above year-earlier levels but New Orleans exports slipped from 3.3mn st in May 2012.
US imports continued to fall, dropping to 718,861st in June from 970,196st a year earlier. Imports totaled 986,383st in May.
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