THE Hunter coal industry has lifted export volumes slightly in the first half of this year, showing that while prices are still subdued, demand for the product is as strong as ever.
The latest monthly report from the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Co-ordinator shows that that 78.6 million tonnes of coal have been railed to the Port of Newcastle in the six months to the end of June, up on the 76.8 million tonnes that arrived in the first half of last year.
If the same rate continues for the rest of the year, Newcastle coal exports are likely to top the 158 million tonnes recorded in 2015.
With coal companies pushing hard to cut costs where possible, the HVCCC figures show that Port Waratah Coal Services, operator of two of the port’s three coal terminals, is also doing its bit to increase efficiency.
The figures show the PWCS Kooragang loader taking an average of 17 hours to load a coal ship, down from 20 hours in 2011. Loading is slower at the smaller Carrington terminal, at 27 hours on average, but this, too, is down from the 30 hours average in 2011.
To the end of June, PWCS had loaded 445 ships with coal, compared with 447 at the same time last year.
Despite the record tonnages, the long delays that once plagued the port appear to be a thing of the past, with ships waiting an average of two days, compared with a wait of seven days, five years ago.
Statistics from PWCS show that Japan is accounting for virtually half of the Hunter’s coal, taking 47.7 per cent of PWCS exports in the year to the end of June, followed by Korea with 12.8 per cent and China with 11.9 per cent.
A BHP Billiton operational review published earlier this week shows that prices have continued to fall for thermal coal – the main product exported from the Hunter.
The review shows the company has received $US46 a tonne for its thermal coal in the six months to the end of June, compared with $US49 in the six months to the end of December.
Coking coal prices, by contrast, have risen slightly in recent months.