* Australian coal prices unaffected by wet weather
* Chinese buyers well-supplied, domestic price slips
By Rebekah Kebede
PERTH, Dec 9 Australia's thermal coal
prices, the benchmark for Asia, were flat at around $111 per
tonne, with the coal market so far little affected by wet
weather in the Hunter Valley producing region.
Thermal coal on the global COAL Newcastle index for the week
to date closed at $111.47 per tonne on Friday, flat from $111.26
per tonne a week earlier.
Thermal coal shipments from Newcastle port rose 55 percent
in the week ended Dec. 3 to 1.92 million tonnes after a slowdown
the previous week caused by planned maintenance and the wet
Negotiations between Japanese utilities and Australian
suppliers have started for the annual coal contract beginning
January, with the Japanese utilities' chief negotiator in
But with thermal coal prices soft, suppliers are not
motivated to make a deal, especially since buyers settled the
previous annual contracts at prices well above current levels.
The 2011 benchmark annual contract starting April 1, which
represents most of the long-term coal volumes imported during
the year, was settled at a record of $129.85 per tonne, while a
smaller annual contract beginning in October was settled at
$126.50 a tonne.
"It seems to be quiet. The suppliers are not in a hurry to
set the price," one broker said.
The January thermal coal supply contract typically
represents about 10 percent of Japan's annual imports, according
to industry sources.
The temporary closure of the Orica explosives plant
that supplies many Australian thermal coal miners raised some
concerns among producers early on in the week, but the company
said Thursday it was ready to restart the plant.
In China, the domestic coal price benchmark was slightly
lower at 840 yuan($130) per tonne during the last week, down
from 847 yuan the previous week, according to the weekly
Bohai-Rim Bay thermal coal price index published Wednesday.
Chinese thermal coal inventories are currently hovering
around 16 days and although utilities are already hunting for
cargoes for late in the first quarter of 2012, they are not in
urgent need of supply.
Coal import demand from China, the world's largest producer
and consumer of coal, may be dampened by the government's move
to cap benchmark spot prices with a heating value of 5,500
kcal/kg at 800 yuan a tonne beginning January.
Chinese import demand typically ramps up when domestic
prices climb above the cost of importing coal.
A Reuters poll this week showed China's utilities will
import more than 120 million tonnes of thermal coal in 2012 as
buyers seek out cheaper overseas supplies, but imports will grow
at a slower pace as domestic demand moderates and home
($1 = 6.3619 Chinese yuan)
(Additional reporting by Fayen Wong in Shanghai; editing by