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European thermal coal demand rises in June, bullish for July

Thermal coal demand in Europe rose across June, and remains bullish for July, with low renewable generation in the German power market supporting spot demand and prices for delivered-Europe coal.

Twenty-nine laden coal vessels arrived at the key Northwest Europe hub of Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp throughout June, an increase from 21 in May, basis 50,000 dwt minimum, according to S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow.

The total deadweight tonnage of the June arrivals was 2.64 million mt, from 1.88 million mt in May. Coal stocks held at ARA terminals averaged 5.2 million mt throughout June, up from 4.47 million mt averaged throughout May, and 9% higher on year, according to Platts data.

Of the arrivals, 12 ships were carrying US coal and 12 Russian, while two ships were loaded with Colombian coal, and one each from South Africa, Poland, and Mozambique.

A European coal trader said they had noted some flows of low-CV coal from South African and Mozambique recently, but the US and Russia were expected to be the two key sources for the foreseeable future.

Typically, coal demand is weaker during the summer months, but sources said the increase in arrivals would be a result of above average temperatures, and lower renewables generation creating more demand for coal-fired generation.

A European coal trader said the increased demand was somewhat surprising given the time of year, and with lower renewable generation they expected this demand would remain strong and support coal prices in the near term.

Platts CIF ARA 6,000 kcal/kg NAR price rose from $85.25/mt at the start of May, peaking at $98.60/mt on June 19, an increase of 16%.

An additional 23 vessels were currently on-water for arrival at the terminals in July, according to cFlow.

“We have good bookings from German plants for July,” a European coal trader said.

A second European trader said they expected firm coal pricing in the near term due to lower renewable generation in Europe.

So far in July, Platts CIF ARA price has risen further, peaking at $101.50/mt on Monday, the highest level since January 2012.

Coal-fired generation in Germany — Europe’s main power market for imported coal — rose in June amid a low wind scenario stretching over most of the month and overlapping with nuclear outages at the start of June, Fraunhofer ISE data showed.

While hard coal saw a multi-year low in May amid a record share for renewables production in the power mix, thermal coal came back into the picture as hot, dry weather caused higher demand and wind faded.

Wind supplies are Germany’s biggest renewables source and low wind scenarios impact near-term traded contracts sharply.

No significant change was expected in the coming weeks, likely keeping spot prices for German power high, forecasts and traders said.

Below-average wind supplies were forecast for the next week with only 5-7 GW production during base hours, according to spotrenewables.com. On Monday the EPEX day-ahead settlement hit a year-to-date high of Eur52.95/MWh.

Throughout June the average power spot was Eur42.42/MWh, above the average spot price of Eur36.16/MWh so far this year.

Nuclear availability will fall at the end of this week when the 1.4 GW Isar-2 reactor will go into annual maintenance and refueling, adding further bullish sentiment for coal demand.

Traders said the warm temperatures also pose a risk for power plant cooling this summer, and lower river levels making coal transports more important.

Coal-fired power generation margins rose to a 2.5-month high at the start of July on the back of the strong power prices in Germany, S&P Global Platts data showed.

The clean dark spread (CDS), which measures the profitability of power produced at a 35% efficient coal-fired power plant including emission costs, rose to minus Eur2.63/MWh at the start of July.
Source: Platts

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