By Jo Clarke
May 12, 2023 - The four main coal ports in Australia's Queensland are having a mixed start to 2023, with Chinese demand and increased supplies bolstering Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT) and Abbot Point and the other two falling behind what was a weak start to the previous year.
Hay Point, DBCT, Abbot Point and Gladstone shipped 16.46mn t of coal in April, up from 16.17mn t in March and from 14.12mn t in April 2022, according to port data. DBCT's January-April shipments are 19pc ahead of the same period last year and Abbot Point is up by 24pc, while Hay Point is down by 16pc and Gladstone down by 11pc on what was a below average start to 2022.
The above average monthly shipping was driven by firm throughput at DBCT and Abbot Point, offsetting below average exports by the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) operated Hay Point and the multi-user port of Gladstone.
There were 60 vessels queued off Hay Point and DBCT on 11 May, down from 63 on 8 May but up from 37 on 16 January and an average of around 25. There are eight off Abbot Point, which often has just of couple of ships at anchor. Gladstone was the only one of the big four Queensland ports to have a close to average queue of 21 ships on 11 May, down from 34 on 6 March.
DBCT And Abbot Point have both increased shipments to China since Beijing removed its informal ban on Australian coal imports in January, according to initial shipping data collated by Argus. Gladstone has also raised sales to China but it was interrupted by a derailment in late January.
BMA's Hay Point appears to have only loaded to ships bound for China this year, implying that the coking coal joint venture is not as keen to return as some of its rivals. Hay Point in 2020 and 2019 loaded around the same volume of coal bound for China as DBCT, according to shipping data.
DBCT and Abbot Point are also benefitting from a supply-side response. UK-South African firm Anglo American is boosting output at its Queensland mines and smaller independent firms are restarting mines, most of which ship through DBCT. Indian firm Adani is increasing production at its Carmichael coal mine, which ships through Abbot Point.
Argus assessed high-grade 6,000 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal at $177.04/t fob Newcastle on 5 May, down from $319.23/t on 27 January and from a peak of $444.59/t on 9 September 2022. Argus assessed the premium hard low-volatile metallurgical coal price at $246.40/t fob Australia on 10 May, down from $367.55/t on 3 March.
Australian coal price comparisons ($/t)