October 30, 2017 / 5:33 AM / a year ago

S.Korea set for record coal imports on nuclear outages as winter looms

* Nuclear outages ahead of winter have pushed up coal demand

* S. Korean coal imports could hit 12 mln tonnes in October

* LNG imports have also been soaring

By Henning Gloystein

SINGAPORE, Oct 30 (Reuters) - South Korea’s coal imports will hit a record in October as nuclear reactor outages bite into energy supply and the country braces for the imminent start of the peak winter demand season.

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon showed that South Korea’s September coal imports hit a record 11.3 million tonnes, and several trading sources said the October figure will be around 12 million tonnes.

Rodrigo Echeverri, head of bulk commodity analyst at merchant Noble Group, a major trader in physical coal markets, said at a major industry event last week that “Korea...had issues with nuclear generation in 2016 and 2017.”

Having to step in to replace nuclear power meant “Korean (coal) imports are headed on track to grow by 9-10 million tonnes in 2017,” he said, to almost 110 million tonnes.

The higher demand is also a result of the looming peak demand winter heating season in North Asia.

Weather data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that average temperatures in Seoul would likely be slightly below the seasonal norm for the next 45 days, implying high heating fuel demand.

The situation is similar in Japan’s and China’s main cities, the data shows, although the outlook for the rest of winter is not yet clear.

Thermal coal prices are reacting to the tighter demand picture, with benchmark Australian spot cargo prices from its Newcastle port last settling at $97.10 per tonne, up over a third from its 2017 low in May.

For similar reasons, South Korea’s imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have also soared since summer. Asian spot LNG prices LNG-AS have jumped by two-thirds since March to $9 per million British thermal units.

Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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