Atlantic coking coal prices squeezed as European buyers hang back

Atlantic coking coal prices have come under further pressure in the past week, amid weak buying among European steel mills.

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Premium-grade high-volatility coking coal was heard offered into Europe at prices of $115-117 per tonne fob, down from more than $120 at the beginning of the month.

With the market well supplied and the majority of European buyers’ needs now well covered until the beginning of the second quarter, sources said that prices were likely to soften further into the first week of February.

“Most buyers have filled their first-quarter requirements,” a producer said. “People are holding back from buying spot [material] because they think that prices will go down further.”

US producers have been aggressively selling coals into Europe in the past month, offering competitive prices into the region at levels sufficiently attractive to push Australian coals out of the market.

“A couple of weeks ago, everyone was saying that all the material sold into Europe this month would be Australian,” a coal trader said.

“The Australians have been offering blends into Europe very cheaply but the US producers have undercut them. Now the Australian producers are hanging back with their premium material – they don’t want to sell it at these prices,” the trader added.

European steel mill sources said that they had heard fewer prices from US East Coast coking coal producers in the past week.

“The US producers have been offering a lot on [the] spot [market], although less in the past week,” a coal buyer at a major European mill said.

Turkish mills were reported to have bought spot cargoes of US coal in early January, but no new trades were confirmed this week.

Egyptian mill El Nasr was reported to have bought a cargo of US high-volatility spot material after putting out a January tender, and a US producer sold a 170,000-tonne cargo of high-volatility coking coal to a South Korean mill earlier this week.

A Russian coke mill was also reported to have bought a cargo of US high-volatility material for $117 per tonne fob.

With the Chinese market out for the New Year holiday, sources expected little movement in prices over the next week.

Steel First’s indices for premium low-volatility hard coking coal fob Australia and cfr China were both unchanged on the day on Friday January 31, at $139.18 per tonne and $129.69 per tonne respectively.

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