Coal has not just been a fuel or commodity, but it has been emblematic to mention something which is untouchable, despite that the darkness which it has stored within it and the role which it has played in spreading lights in the billions of lives cannot be undermined.
But now, things are changing drastically, coal is losing it might so rapidly that it seem to be trailing under its own darkness. Now, no one wants coal; and it is not just because of the carbon values it emits, but the grammar of economics doesn’t support it either.
The prices of coal are plummeting all over, in last four years it has nosedived from $117 to $49 per metric tonne. The thump of 58% has been felt manifold with the rising cost of mining. This is not less than a ‘kick in the teeth’ for the companies involved in coal mining and their billions of employees working directly or indirectly.
Now, in such a bleak scenario India wants to auction its coal mines, had the think-tanks have considered the darkening scene of coal globally, I believe that would have saved the government from an avoidable embarrassment which came out after there were no takers of coal mines in last auctions which was held in October last year.
Many got surprised, when the auctions ended dud with no response, at least that didn’t include me, or anyone who had heard Mr PM saying that “By 2030 we will reduce emissions by 35% of 2005 levels, & of 40% of our installed capacity will be from non-fossil fuels (sic)”. Isn’t that very clear that even government is not going to support those who see their future in coal
As India is moving closer to the commercial coal mining, so it is also close to an uncertainty which is going to exist until the government change their stance toward the mining companies. They should not be looked as polluters because it is they who involve a lot of money and hard work to dig out coal from the block of ashes. If you have the guts to roar in UN to favour developing countries and support their rights to grow on cheap sources of power, you also need to have little sympathy towards companies too. As this is what they need it most, when there is little or no sign of improvement in the business of coal.
If one need to understand the kind of adversity mid-size coal producers are going through, one need to look at the giants of this business. Let us start it with the China which has been by far the biggest coal producing country over the last three decades. It aims to eliminate as much as 500 million metric tons of annual output in three to five years. The 500 million-ton target could erase almost 9 percent of China’s capacity. This means China doesn’t require power produced by fossil fuel or in other words the business of coal is shady in China. This is the one big reason why prices of coal are sinking.
Now look at the USA, who stands to be the second biggest coal producer of world. Sinking coal prices have pushed almost half the debt issued by US coal companies into default, and for miners and their investors there is no end in sight. The major coal producer companies of US like Patriot Coal Corp., Walter Energy Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources Inc. have all filed for bankruptcy in the past year. Now that Arch Coal Inc., the second-largest coal miner in the U.S., has joined their ranks, investors are wondering if the largest, Peabody Energy Corp., could be next.
The US is using the least amount of coal ever to make electricity as cheap natural gas establishes itself as the nation’s favourite power-plant fuel. Coal’s share of total electricity generation fell in November to a record 29 percent, what was once the source of more than half the nation’s power.
The story of rising darkness is not different in Australia, the fifth largest coal producer of world. Around one-third of coal mines are running at loss and not less than 21,000 jobs have been lost in the sector.
The picture ahead seems to be more scary. Prominent economist professor at Central Queensland University, John Rolfe has warned that the downturn in coal prices could last for another four years, and prices won’t improve until at least 2020.
Now, the ball is in the court of govt, when the current macro scenario is frightening, micro scene has already frightened and future seems dim, the only hope which can give them morale and reason to invest is the good treatment by the govt.