China Seizing The Moment?

Industrial Metals

China’s promises to clean up its act on a clean climate could well go up in smoke and add to the sooty blanket of smog that lines most cities. The country churns out 3 new coal-fired generating plants every week.

By Kishori Krishnan Exclusive To Coal Investing NewsIs China showing the way?

And we thought they would pay heed. China is potrayed as a dire threat to the planet, with its booming population and its resultant pollution. And though the country promised to clean up its climate and spelt out other environmental promises at the Copenhagen meet, the promises could well go up in smoke and add to the sooty blanket of smog that lines most of the cities in the Asian country.

Greenpeace notes that 80 per cent of China’s carbon dioxide emissions and 85 per cent of its sulphur dioxide pollution come from burning coal.

The vast nation looks nowhere near to reducing its greenhouse gases given that the country is cranking out three new coal-fired generating plants every week.

Though their “alleged committment to climate change” has sparked a fury of debate, there are others who swear that the country is promising to brake runaway growth in its world-leading carbon emissions and that it means business.

On its part, the Chinese government has made its intentions clear: “China will not repeat the traditional path of growth of developed nations of high emissions, high energy consumption and high pollution,” vowed Xie Zhenhua, vice-minister of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission.

But giving up coal would tantamount to an impossible challenge.

China is not blessed with abundant supplies of oil and gas, it has huge deposits of coal. The fuel’s ready availability and cheap price made it an obvious choice to fire the country’s industrial revolution,

Coal continues to be king.

As does pollution for the Asian tiger.

Business sense

From a business point of view, there is good news for coal though. And all of it emanating from China.

China’s coal exports, both coking and thermal, fell to just 1.43 metric tonne. An analysis by Deutsche Bank points to the potential for China to move from being a net coal exporter to a 150 metric tonne importer by 2011, as demand growth starts to exceed supply.

The analysis notes that Chinese domestic prices could rise 11 per cent in 2010, which in turn would be supportive of existing seaborne spot prices, thus creating a potential upside.

Incidentally, thermal coal spot prices have already increased by 30 per cent since April and spot hard coking prices have drafted a similar rise.

What this suggests is that the Chinese imports of 100 metric tonne for the current year have now become quite significant.

Analysts from Citi also believe that China’s sharply improved net import position is a key positive for coal market. An analysis points out that coal stocks at power stations have fallen around 20 per cent through November and as result, domestic prices are moving sharply higher.

Citi thinks China’s early winter, plus sharply higher domestic coal prices and increasing coastal freight costs, are clearly positives of high import levels.

Ottawa calling

There is one firm that is overjoyed as demand for coal in China soars. Teck Resources, which has managed to get itself out from a mountain of debt taken on to purchase Fording Canadian Coal Trust, plans to boost output further.

The firm expects to have debt levels back within target ranges soon, Teck CEO Don Lindsay said adding that a ten-fold increase in Chinese imports of metallurgical coal was underpinning demand. The coal is used in steelmaking.

The company borrowed nearly US$10-billion to buy Fording just before last year’s resource sell-off, forcing Teck to chop costs, divest non-core items, and sell a 17 per cent stake in the company to China Investment Corp to pay down the debt.

Lower debt levels have allowed Teck to cancel its planned sale of its 20 per cent stake in the Fort Hills oil sandsproject and delay a possible sale of a stake in its coal business.

Indonesian tax

Three firms — PT Kaltim Prima Coal, PT Arutmin Indonesia and their parent company, PT Bumi Resources — are involved in a controversy following allegations of tax evasion to the tune of around US$214 million.

The revelation is “in fact, a great opportunity to clarify long-standing differences between ourselves and the tax authority over our tax status,” Bumi corporate secretary Dileep Srivastava said Sunday, adding that the companies have always been proactive in communicating with the office over their tax status.

Deals galore

That, however, is not keeping business down. Indonesian conglomerate PT Bakrie & Brothers Tbk (BNBR.JK) said Monday that is aims to solidify its stake in coal miner Bumi Resources (BUMI.JK), and will raise up to $250 million from a convertible bond to refinance maturing debt.

Bakrie is to raise its stake in Bumi, Indonesia’s biggest coal producer, to 21 per cent from the current 18.6 per cent.

Still on China, its fourth biggest coal producer Yanzhou Coal Mining announced that the Federal Court of Australia has approved its plan to take over Australian coal miner Felix Resources at A$ 3.5 billion.

Yanzhou Coal Mining said after completing its takeover of Felix, it will have an approved coal reserve of 1.5 billion tonnes in Australia.

Its annual coal output in Australia is expected to exceed 10 million tonnes.

Showing the way

Be that as it may, can China be the leader the world needs?

“If we are talking about green technologies, athen I think the answer is definitely ‘yes’,” Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, told CNN.

He believes a green transformation in the country is inevitable.

As for how long the process would take – your guess is as good as mine.

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