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China, India pull back from coal imports: Analyst

December 07, 2018 00:00:00

LAUNCESTON, Australia, Dec 06 (Reuters): It's not shaping up as a merry Christmas for coal exporters to Asia as the region's top buyers, China and India, pull back from the recent trend of strong imports.

The Chinese authorities appear to be making good on a commitment to try and limit the country's imports of the polluting fuel to levels the same as 2017.

The restrictions have led to a sharp drop in the daily import of coal so far in December, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv.

Seaborne imports in the first five days of the month stood at 1.5 million tonnes, or a daily rate of just 300,000 tonnes.

This compares to total seaborne imports of 226.2 million tonnes in the first 11 months of 2018, a daily rate of about 677,000 tonnes.

The authorities in Beijing have told coal traders and utilities they want imports for the whole year to be similar to the 279 million tonnes in 2017.

This is likely going to be a challenge since customs data showed imports for the first 10 months of the year were 252 million tonnes, up 11 per cent from the same period in 2017.

With vessel-tracking data pointing to November seaborne imports of about 18.3 million tonnes, this would in theory leave only about 9 million tonnes available for December.

At the rate of imports for the first five days of December, this may just be possible, as it suggests about 9.3 million tonnes for the month as a whole.

However, the ship-tracking data doesn't cover overland imports, mainly from neighbouring Mongolia, meaning it's likely that 2018 imports will probably exceed those of 2017.

But the sharp reduction in imports so far in December shows Beijing's message to the industry is being heeded.

India, the second-largest coal importer behind China, also appears to be cutting back in December, with a mere 755,535 tonnes discharged in the first five days, a paltry daily rate of 151,107 tonnes.

The daily rate of imports for the first 11 months of the year was 534,000 tonnes, according to the Refinitiv data.

The lower imports so far in December are at odds with recent developments in India, as utilities and steel makers have resorted to buying more from overseas to overcome domestic transport bottlenecks.

It's possible that India's December imports will be boosted by arrivals from Indonesia, given that it takes about two weeks to sail from the coal-producing region of Kalimantan to India's west coast.

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