June 8, 2018 / 3:46 AM / 4 months ago

Australian coal prices hit 6-year high as Asia demand spikes

* Newcastle coal at $115.25/t, highest since Feb. 2012

* Coal rally triggers surge in specialist mining shares

* Whitehaven Coal shares hit highest level since 2011

* Coal far outperforms competing LNG market

By Henning Gloystein and Sonali Paul

SINGAPORE/MELBOURNE, June 8 (Reuters) - Australian thermal coal prices have risen to their highest level since 2012 as hot weather across North Asia spurs buying ahead of the peak summer demand season.

Spot prices for thermal coal cargoes for export from Australia’s Newcastle terminal last closed at $115.25 per tonne, the highest level since February 2012.

Thermal coal, the world’s most used fuel for electricity generation, has surged by 130 percent since its record lows below $50 per tonne in 2016 following a years-long decline.

Prices have been driven up by economic growth, especially in Asia, along with constraints on supply due to earlier mine closures and high hurdles to developing new mines amid concerns about pollution and global warming.

In recent weeks, a heat-wave in North Asia and restocking ahead of the hottest summer months in July and August have led to soaring demand for both residential and industrial cooling, traders said.

Weather data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that large parts of North Asia, including cities like Beijing and Tokyo have experienced unusually warm weather since late May.

TRAFFIC JAM

Supply disruptions from South African miners have also pushed up Newcastle prices, as buyers shifted towards Australia to meet demand.

“Supply is tight out of Australia. What has also happened is exports out of South Africa are down... That opens up the market for more Australian coal into Asia,” said Shane Stephan, Managing Director at New Hope, Australia’s third largest independent coal producer.

The increased demand for the North Asian summer has led to a traffic-jam of dozens of ships waiting at Newcastle to load coal.

“You are seeing some real competition for access to thermal coal during this restocking phase in Asia,” Stephan said. “I suspect that pricing could go a little higher yet.”

The bull-run is providing Australian coal miners like New Hope and Whitehaven Coal with a revenue boost in an industry that is being increasingly shunned by investors because of its high levels of pollution.

New Hope shares have more than doubled from their 2016 lows, to around A$2 a share, while Whitehaven shares have jumped 16-fold from their 2016 lows, to almost A$6.

Australian coal miners like Whitehaven and New Hope have far outperformed even companies specialising in the booming liquefied natural gas (LNG) market, such as Australia’s Santos Ltd, which in May rejected a $10.8 billion takeover offer. ($1 = 1.3125 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; additional reporting by Yuka Obayashi in TOKYO and Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE

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