China is struggling to digest a growing glut of coal, as robust domestic output and soaring imports threaten to overwhelm the coming wave of winter demand.
Prices for the mainstay fuel have come under sustained pressure, and analysts are warning that the winter-heating season — due to kick in later this month — won’t be enough to offset relatively modest industrial demand.
There was panic selling this week after a few key ports warned traders that space for stockpiling was at risk of running out, the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association, or CCTD, said at a Wednesday briefing.
“It’s turning into a buyers’ market,” said Gao Lanying, analyst at Cqcoal, a leading Chinese pricing agency. The annual surge of demand for household heating in the colder months is now unlikely to soak up bloated inventories and excess supply, she said.
China to See Record Coal Imports This Year
China has ramped up coal output since the 2021 power crisis in order to avoid a repeat, with this year’s annual production set to notch another record. Demand growth has also been relatively subdued amid China’s bumpy economic recovery.
But it’s a spike in imports that’s tipped the market into a more serious imbalance. Traders have taken advantage of cheaper supplies in the rest of the world, with imports up 73% for the first nine months of the year. Inbound volumes hit a record in August.
The flood of coal marks a major turnaround from this period two years ago, when shortages of the fossil fuel triggered widespread power cuts that hurt businesses and households. That’s less likely to happen with plentiful coal supplies, although authorities are still alert to that risk in some regions.
The weakening spot market offers a bearish backdrop to annual supply negotiations for 2024 between China’s coal miners and major buyers. China Coal Energy Co., the second-biggest producer, said the benchmark price is expected to be lower next year. Demand uncertainties will weaken import purchases through the rest of this year, Su Huipeng, a CCTD analyst said, but total annual imports could still reach a record 460 million tons for 2023.