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US coal exports slow in September, still up on year

8 Nov 2012, 9.07 pm GMT

Washington, 8 November (Argus) — US coal exports slowed in September but were still up 7pc from last year as higher steam coal shipments offset a drop in metallurgical volumes.

September exports totaled 9.3mn short tons (8.4mn metric tonnes), down from 10.6mn st in August but above the 8.7mn st shipped in the same month last year, according to Census Bureau data released today.

The year-over-year increase came entirely from steam coal. Thermal shipments climbed to 4.5mn st from 3.1mn st in September 2011. The majority was bound for Europe at 2.8mn st, up 75pc from a year earlier although down 13pc from August. Shipments to Asia climbed to 646,712st from 567,344st in August and 477,445st in September 2011. Other North American countries took 589,183st, about 4pc above September 2011.

Most steam coal exports in September were loaded at the port of New Orleans, a key conduit for Illinois basin coal and an increasingly popular artery for western bituminous exports. Thermal loadings at New Orleans terminals totaled 1.8mn st, rising from 1.2mn st a year ago and flat with August despite an outage at Kinder Morgan's International Marine Terminal after Hurricane Isaac swept through the area.

But a lack of arbitrage between Central Appalachian mines and northwest Europe has reduced export trade through other Census districts. Loadings of mostly Central Appalachian steam coal around Norfolk, Virginia, totaled 1mn st in September, almost double year-ago levels but down from 1.3mn st in August.

Baltimore steam coal exports managed to climb despite a slower market and setbacks at one terminal. Thermal exports from Baltimore totaled 363,600st in September, nearly double August levels and 20pc above the same month last year. The increase was likely from higher loadings at Consol Energy's CNX terminal. Exports fell from CSX's Curtis Bay terminal after an asphalt vessel struck its Bayside pier in late August, preventing the facility from loading Capesize ships until normal operations resumed in late October.

US coking coal shipments were less resilient than steam coal in September, falling 13pc from last year and 15pc sequentially to 4.9mn st.

But total exports remained on track to reach record full-year levels. Combined US steam and coking coal shipments rose to 97.8mn st in the first nine months of 2012, up 22pc from January-September 2011 and supporting projections for a record 125mn st for the entire year.

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