South African May thermal coal exports reach 2017 high


South African exports of thermal coal reached highs for 2017 at 7.03 million mt in May, posting increases both on the month and the year as flows into key consumer India hit an 11-month high, the most recent customs data showed.

Exported volume from the country during May had increased 13.5% from the previous month, and 8.4% from levels seen during the same month in 2016, according to S&P Global Platts calculations, with India accounting for more than 50% of the demand.

At 3.89 million mt, May exports to India were up 11% on April but remained 13% down on the year, marking the third consecutive month of year-on-year declines into the country.

With India’s share of offtake from South Africa declining, and demand in the more traditional markets such as Northwest Europe and the Mediterranean also shrinking, sellers of South African coal appeared to be looking further afield to seek alternative destinations for the material.

After three consecutive months of zero volumes, Turkey was seen to have imported 286,400 mt in May, an 11-month high for the country, while South Korea and Taiwan took over 1 million mt collectively, at 509,186 mt and 605,000 mt, respectively, according to the customs data, released Monday.

Thailand also imported almost 80,000 mt, while traditional buyer Pakistan imported more than 1 million mt.

The largest falls were evident in the Northwest European and Mediterranean region, where imports totaled just 75,000 mt — all of which was destined for France — the lowest level on record, according to S&P Global Platts data.

This represented a fall of over 40% from the previous month, although countries in the wider European region took up some of the slack, with markets such as Bulgaria importing cargoes.

The evolving trade flow meant that exports to the Atlantic basin were down by around 20% in May versus April, a reduction of around 240,000 mt on the month, while an additional 350,000 mt had made its way into the Asia Pacific basin.

Toward the end of May, congestion around South Africa’s Richards Bay Coal Terminal had delayed shipments out of the country, with almost 40 vessels waiting to load by May 31 following a tropical cyclone that hit the country in mid-February.

Richards Bay 6,000 FOB netback back prices had averaged around $74/mt over the May-loading period, according to Platts historical data.


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