UPDATE 1-Whitehaven Coal Q2 output slumps 44% on labour, drought issues

(Adds share price, thermal coal outlook, background)

Jan 16 (Reuters) - Australia’s Whitehaven Coal Ltd on Thursday posted a 44% drop in second-quarter saleable coal production as labour issues and drought-related weather conditions hit output at its flagship Maules Creek mine.

The company’s shares fell as much as 1.9%, while the broader benchmark hit a record high.

The country’s largest independent coal producer said operations at the New South Wales mine were affected by labour shortages, and by dust and smoke from drought and regional bushfires.

Australia is battling its worst bushfire season on record, with blazes burning since September, killing 29 people and razing bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria. The fires follow a three-year drought.

Total saleable coal production for the three months ended Dec. 31 came in at 3.1 million tonnes, compared with 5.6 million tonnes a year earlier, the company said in a statement.

Production at Maules Creek, which produced nearly 60% of Whitehaven’s saleable coal output in 2019, fell 34%.

The Sydney-based miner in December lowered its run of mine coal production forecast for the full year to 20-22 million tonnes from a prior range of 22-23.5 million tonnes, due to adverse weather conditions and difficulty recruiting skilled workers at Maules Creek.

In the December quarter, Whitehaven said it sold thermal coal at $66 per tonne, a fall of 9.6% from the prior three-month period.

Whitehaven sells high grade coal across Asia, with Japan, Korea and Taiwan as its main customers. The company has been increasing its output of higher quality thermal coal as its prices have fallen at a slower pace when compared with other grades of the commodity.

The company said it “continues to see strong end user and trader demand for high quality thermal coal”. (Reporting by Niyati Shetty and Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin and Anil D’Silva)