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Australian energy economics firm sees coal prices rising sharply

SYDNEY (XFN-ASIA) - Sydney-based Energy Economics is forecasting sharp increases in the prices of thermal coal used for electricity generation and metallurgical coal when annual price negotiations are concluded for the new Japanese fiscal year, starting April 1, 2005

The privately held consulting firm's principal Clyde Henderson said he expects thermal coal prices sold under contract to Japanese generators to rise by 5 usd a tonne or 11 pct to 50 usd a tonne for the year to March 2006 from 45 usd in the current year

Similarly, he expects the price of hard coking coal to rise 16.75 usd a tonne or 29 pct to 74.00 usd over the same period from 57.25 while semi-soft coal is projected to be up 12.10 usd or 28 pct to 54.60 from 42.50

Price negotiations start later this year

Energy Economics said in its monthly report that thermal coal imports continued to grow strongly through the June quarter, with the top four importing countries -- Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the UK -- boosting steam coal imports by over 15 pct

Japan recorded a 23.7 pct increase in steam coal imports for the quarter which was seen as a result of re-stocking as well as higher air-conditioning energy demand which is continuing

The firm said re-stocking also played a large part in the growth in Korean, Taiwanese and UK steam coal imports

The report showed metallurgical coal imports by the four countries increased by 1.0 pct in the June quarter as supply restrictions out of Australia eased somewhat and US exports grew

Australia's metallurgical coal exports were 29.63 mln tonnes in the June quarter, up 3.13 mln tonnes from 26.50 mln in the March quarter

Despite the recovery in the June quarter, it said metallurgical coal imports by the four countries were still down by 1.6 pct over the first half

While tight supplies and strong markets are currently the dominating feature of the seaborne coal market, Energy Economics said supplier-customer relations will also play a role

It said UK-listed Xstrata Plc, which owns coal mines in Australia and South Africa, may face difficulties in securing extra tonnages of coking coal under contract for supply to Japanese steel mills because of the tough stance it took in pricing talks last year

Last week, BHP Billiton stressed the importance of customer relations when it announced plans to raise metallurgical coal output to 100 mln tonnes a year by 2010 in response to rising demand by the global steel industry

It said joint venture operations are currently producing about 58 mln tonnes at mines in the Australian state of Queensland

Bob Kirkby, group president of BHP Billiton's carbon steel materials business, said that the change in the rate of growth in the global steel industry in recent years has created a significant increase in demand for steel making raw materials, including seaborne metallurgical coal. bruce.hextall@xfn.com blh/mas For more information and to contact AFX: www.afxnews.com and www.afxpress.com

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