LAUNCESTON, Australia, March 3 (Reuters) – Asia’s seaborne coal markets stumbled in February and it appears the coronavirus outbreak in China may dodge most of the blame, with the weakness concentrated in other major importers of the polluting fuel.
South Korea’s imports of both thermal and coking coal were particularly hard hit, dropping to 6.9 million tonnes in February from 11.4 million in January and 9.4 million in February 2019, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv.
That was the lowest monthly imports for South Korea since Refinitiv started vessel-tracking in January 2015. South Korea’s weak coal demand was sparked by the country’s decision to close up to 15 coal-fired power plants between December and February in order to limit air pollution over winter.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has about 60 coal-fired power plants, generating 40% of the country’s electricity, with nuclear holding a 30% share and natural gas around 20%.
The bad news for coal exporters is that South Korea will extend the closure of coal-fired plants this month, with the Energy Ministry saying on March 1 that up to 28 plants will be idled this month.