BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s coal imports from key supplier Australia surged in January from a year ago, customs data showed on Saturday, boosted by strong demand at utilities amid freezing weather.
The world’s top coal consumer brought in 7.94 million tonnes of coal from Australia last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, up 9.4 percent from a year ago.
That compares with 8.07 million tonnes in December.
Indonesian coal supplies jumped almost 40 percent in January from a year ago to 5.04 million tonnes, one of the highest monthly totals for the country since 2014.
The surge is a big recovery from December when delays at loading ports in Indonesia as a result of heavy rain slowed arrivals to just 1.7 million tonnes.
Buyers of Indonesian coal had also been holding back orders of the fuel as new shipping rules for coal and crude palm oil issued by Jakarta are expected to restrict exports to Indonesian vessels. The regulation will take effect at the end of April.
With several bouts of freezing weather sweeping across China in late January and early February, some coal-fired power plants warned of tight supplies of the fuel as their inventories fell below critical levels due to record daily consumption.
Data released this month showed that China brought in a total of 27.81 million tonnes of coal in January, the highest level in four years.
“Imported coal will continue to play a key role as a supplement of domestic coal until mid-March as heating demand in northern China remain robust,” said a Zhengzhou-based trader, adding coal imports may tighten again afterwards.
The heating season typically ends on March 15 in northern China.
Vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts suggest China will import about 21.68 million tonnes of seaborne coal in February.
China’s thermal coal prices on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange hit 679.8 yuan ($106.89) a tonne on Jan. 29, up from around 390 yuan a year earlier.
To ensure stable coal supplies, state- and local-level authorities have ordered miners to ramp up production and asked ports to speed up the process of receiving seaborne coal.
Prices of spot cargoes of thermal coal from Australia’s Newcastle port, touched a 13-month-high at $109.50 on Jan. 17.
Shipments from Russia also rose in January. It went up 43 percent to 2.53 million tonnes. That compares with 2.14 million tonnes in December.
Imports from Mongolia, however, were down 40.8 percent to 1.85 million tonnes from a year ago and down from December’s 2.83 million tonnes due to congestion at the border with China.
Reporting by Muyu Xu, Josephine Mason and Pei Li; Editing by Richard Pullin