The Coal Trader

Richards Bay Coal Terminal

South Africa Thermal Coal Exports up 5% MoM & 27% YoY in Feb’24

Steel Mint Insights

Export volumes were buoyed by competitive prices

Increased enquiries from India in the second half of the month

South Africa’s thermal coal exports rose by 5% m-o-m to 5.16 million tonnes (mnt) in February 2024 as against 4.91 mnt in January 2024. However, exports rose by 27% y-o-y compared to 4.05 mnt in February 2023.

Factors behind the rise in export volumes

  • Enquiries for South African thermal coal improved amid falling prices

Increased enquiries for South African-origin thermal coal can be attributed to competitive pricing and discounts offered by Richards Bay traders. This shift has been driven by cost-conscious buyers opting for more economical alternatives. The rise in South African exports reflects growing appetite for thermal coal sourced from the region.

Prices of RB2 (5500 NAR) dropped by 6% m-o-m to $77/t FOB Richards Bay in February 2024 compared to $82.2/t FOB Richards Bay in January 2024, further boosting export prospects.

  • Diversion of route from Europe to South-east Asia

Disruption in the Red Sea rerouted South Africa’s coal shipments from Europe to South-east Asia. Traders, encountering interrupted supply to Europe, sold coal at discounted rates to Asian countries, particularly for thermal coal. The export surge is fuelled by heightened industrial activities in the region. Additionally, shipments to Pakistan and Taiwan increased by 56% and 8%, respectively, further bolstering South African coal exports to Asian countries.

Exports to major Asian countries

India was the largest buyer of South African coal at 1.91 mnt in February 2024, down 8% m-o-m as against 2.08 mnt in January 2024. Some coastal power plants, as well as steel and cement sectors, were directing their inquiries to South African coal, driven by its attractive prices and smoother supply situation.

Despite the sluggish demand, transactions are ongoing. However, buyers, who traditionally relied on seaborne supplies, are now indicating a preference for domestic coal. According to an India-based trader, this noticeable shift towards domestic supplies suggests that while there is an improvement in demand, buyers are increasingly favouring domestic coal over imported options.

State-run miner Coal India Ltd (CIL) continued its robust performance in terms of production in February 2024. CIL’s production rose by 9% y-o-y to 74.8 mnt in February 2024 as against 68.8 mnt in February 2023. During the month, coal dispatches posted rise of 12% y-o-y to 65.3 mnt compared to 58.3 mnt in February 2023.

Shipments to South Korea dropped by 12% m-o-m to 0.68 mnt in February 2024 as against 0.77 mnt in January 2024. Exports to Vietnam rose by 8% m-o-m to 0.41 mnt in February 2024. Exports to Taiwan stood at 0.15 mnt as against nil in the previous month.

Moreover, shipments to Pakistan surged by 56% m-o-m to 0.36 mnt as against 0.23 mnt in January 2024. Exports to China stood nil during the month due to Lunar Holidays and subdued demand, with ample coal stocks available at ports.

Exports to Europe

Among European countries, The Netherlands stood as the largest importer at 0.25 mnt in February 2024, rose by 5% m-o-m as against 0.24 mnt in January 2024.

Shipments to Germany stood at 0.08 mnt, remained stable m-o-m, while exports to Spain stood nil during the month under review.

RBCT faces cargo loading concerns as stocks plummet

Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) stocks at 2.31 mnt raised concerns of cargo loading slowdown. Inventories have declined 25% from 3.09 mnt a month earlier. Limited rail capacity led RBCT shareholders to depend heavily on coal reserves. Transnet cited adverse weather, power outages, and cable theft impacting railings to RBCT.


Exports are anticipated to rise amid improved demand from sponge producers. Furthermore, robust domestic supply in India continues to fulfill local demand, posing potential pressure on South African coal exports. Additionally, declining inventory at Richards Bay Coal Terminal could further dampen export volumes.