China's Coal Imports Slump 42% as Australian Cargoes Delayed

(Bloomberg) -- China’s coal imports in February tumbled 42 percent from the prior month as the world’s top buyer stalled custom clearances of shipments from Australia, sparking speculation it was retaliating politically against one of its biggest suppliers.

  • Shipments dropped to about 630,036 tons a day from 1.08 million in January, which was the highest since 2014, according to Bloomberg calculations based on customs data released Friday.
    • Total overseas purchases in the first two months gained 3.8 percent from a year ago to 51.1 million tons.

Key Insights

  • China has delayed customs clearance of coal imports from Australia to as long as 40 days, a move seen as a response to Canberra’s decision to reject equipment from Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. for its next-generation telecommunications network.
  • China said this week its customs processes are normal, following earlier remarks that the increased scrutiny is part of efforts to enforce environmental standards.
  • The country often tweaks its coal import policies as a tool to manage its domestic market, clamping down on shipments to encourage demand for locally-mined supply and relaxing those curbs to tame price rallies.
  • Lower imports, coupled with strict safety checks of domestic producers following mining accidents, have boosted prices in recent weeks. Spot coal in China is at the highest since November.
China's Coal Imports Slump 42% as Australian Cargoes Delayed

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  • China’s natural gas imports declined, snapping a run of record purchases since the winter heating season began in November.
    • Shipments fell to about 7.57 million tons last month from 9.81 million in January.
    • Gas imports during January and February were 19 percent higher year-on-year.

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