ANALYSIS-As coal shortfall looms, miners enjoy unexpected boom – by Henning Gloystein (Reuters U.K. – February 9, 2017)

SINGAPORE, Feb 10 Many a swan song has been sung for thermal coal markets as renewable power generation and a push towards using more natural gas have gained traction. Yet a coal price spike last year, driven by a Chinese change in regulation that capped local mining operations, has shown how easily markets can swing from oversupply to shortfall.

While many analysts and investors see the long-term outlook for coal as bleak due to policies and technological advances that favour cleaner natural gas and renewable in power generation, the shorter-term outlook for the industry has seen a sharp reversal of fortunes.

This year, strong demand growth in Asia’s emerging markets will create a supply shortfall for the first time in at least half a decade. Consumption could even soon rise past the 2014 peak, according to Asia’s largest commodity trading house, Noble Group.

Despite coal’s high levels of pollution, utilities and governments in emerging economies, at least for now, largely prefer coal-fired power stations over other fuels including natural gas in order to meet soaring energy demand. While gas and solar prices have fallen sharply, coal remains one of the cheapest, easily available, and most easily maintained sources of electricity.

More than 10 gigawatt (GW) of coal-fired power stations were sanctioned for construction last year in Southeast Asia, where most new demand stems from, compared to just 4.6 GW of gas-fired projects, according to energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“New markets like the Philippines and Vietnam are starting to seek our coal,” the chief executive of Indonesian coal miner PT Bukit Asam, Arviyan Arifin, told Reuters this week.

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