May 22, 2018 / 10:01 AM / in 6 months

Beijing orders utilities, miners to help cool red-hot coal market: sources

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s state planner ordered utilities this week to stop stockpiling thermal coal and told miners to slash prices, two sources familiar with the matter said, the government’s first direct intervention to cool coal prices since mid-2016.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) asked miners at a meeting to bring spot coal prices back under 570 yuan ($90) per tonne by June 10, from current levels of as much as 650 yuan per tonne, the sources said.

Miners were also told to increase supplies under long-term contract by 200 million to 300 million tonnes, said the sources, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The NDRC did not respond to a request for comment.

“The rally in coal prices has prompted the government to issue a flurry of measures to bring down prices,” said Zhang Min, a coal analyst with Sublime Information.

China’s coal market can be heavily influenced by government measures, she said.

In the meeting with utilities, miners and port officials, the NDRC encouraged utilities to halt buying in the next two to three weeks or keep their inventories at lower levels, to let coal prices fall below 570 yuan.

The government hopes to cap total import volumes for 2018 at the same level as 2017, about 471 million tonnes, to help encourage more local output. Beijing, at the same time, also aims to speed up checks on the quality of imported coal cargoes for some major power plants, the two sources said.

On Friday, the NDRC said the current rally in prices is unsupported by market fundamentals.

Two of China’s four largest utilities also banned spot purchases of thermal coal in expectations of near-term declines in prices.

Coal physical traders are looking to sell their inventories and cargoes in the wake of price intervention on Tuesday.

“We are looking to find buyers for our inventories as fast as we can and we will stop booking new cargoes until prices stabilize,” a Beijing-based coal trader with a major state-owned commodities trading firm said.

Traders and analyst are pointing to signs of continuing strong demand in the market, including expectations for hotter-than-usual weather and a pick-up in daily coal consumption by power plants.

“Daily coal consumption from the six largest power plants are at 800,000 tonnes this week, this is unusually high for this month,” a Beijing-based trader said.

Thermal coal futures prices fell for the third day on Tuesday to 610 yuan per tonne on news of the meeting.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Josephine Mason; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Tom Hogue and Alexandra Hudson

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