U.S. to Be Top Coal Exporter Again


"This could not come at a better time for U.S. coal miners. . ."


The United States could vault back into the top rank of coal exporters for good this year thanks to Asia's fuel demand just as surging gas output and tougher environmental laws threaten mainstay domestic sales. Leading U.S. producers, with wallets bulging from high world prices, are jostling to boost their Asian presence.

Their only problem is squeezing enough coal through over-stretched ports and railroads, but efforts are underway to open new outlets thanks to surging confidence in the sector.

The developing world is turning more to the United States to make up for supply shortfalls, particularly buyers who want very high energy-content U.S. fuel regardless of its high sulphur content. Miners in the U.S., the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, have been hit by weak domestic coal sales and fear President Barack Obama's tough climate change policies will further cut demand.

The opening up of the export market puts them in a more profitable, long-term position. U.S. miners are now rushing to open Asian marketing offices and to merge, amalgamate and expand their output with their eyes on the export prize. Annual U.S. coal exports have hit or exceeded 100 million tons only six times in the last 50 years.

Exports have been sporadic depending on international prices and freight costs. But world prices of over U.S.D 100 a ton seem here to stay due to strong demand, logistical bottlenecks and slow export growth in major producers this year. Increased U.S. exports are unlikely to bring prices lower, but will compensate for delayed coal from Australia and will be smoothly absorbed by the Asian market.

This could not come at a better time for U.S. coal miners who face slow growing domestic consumption amid tough environmental rules and competition from plentiful, cheap, cleaner natural gas surging from new shale plays.

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