CHINESE port restrictions are still hitting Hunter coal exports, industry sources say.
Export volumes through Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) - which operates two of the port's three coal loaders - show a slight decline in export volumes since the start of the year, and various indicators, including Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, show prices have fallen noticeably in recent months.
PWCS shipped 51.9 million tonnes from January to June, down less than a million tonnes on the 52.8 million tonnes moved in the first half of 2019.
Spot prices for benchmark Newcastle thermal coal sat at $US48 last week, down from $US50.65 in May and $70.40 in June 2019.
High-ash coal that often goes to China was down to $US37.30 a tonne, compared with $41.35 in May and $US52 in June 2019.
Newcastle's other coal loader, Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group, does not publish its tonnages, but the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show it had shipped 16.4 million tonnes to the end of April, slightly up on the 15.9 million tonnes for the first four months of 2019.
Because coal is traded internationally in $US, the return in $A depends on the exchange rate, with the weaker the Australian dollar, the greater the return in domestic currency.
The July 1 edition of the weekly industry journal Australian Coal Report said coal traders were "extremely bearish" about prices this month because of the "clampdowns" in eastern and southern Chinese ports in Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces.
"The policy uncertainties have created a $US4 to $US6 a tonne gap between prices that Chinese buyers are willing to bid, and miners are willing to offer," ACR quoted one trader as saying.
The shuttering of industry in various countries including Australia's export coal customers has also been blamed for the slow market.
Coal critics, including Tim Buckley from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) say the industry is in a permanent downturn because of the pressure from cleaner and cheaper renewable sources.
But others believe prices will bounce back. Deputy Premier John Barilaro said when releasing a new exploration strategy last week that coal exports would be an important part of the state economy for at least "the next few decades".
In other coal news, BHP says "there are no other BHP mines under consideration for autonomous haulage at this time", after it announced its Daunia coal mine in Queensland would have a fleet of 34 autonomous or driverless trucks next year. BHP owns Muswellbrook's Mount Arthur mine. It announced similar plans last year for its Goonyella mine and uses the trucks in its iron ore operations.
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