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Coal shares hammered over fears China has banned Aussie coal


Coal producers have taken a hammering on the markets today as speculation mounted of China imposing a ban on thermal and coking coal imports from Australia.

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The speculation emerged from trading desks in Asia and because several Australian ships have been stranded at China’s ports for several months.

Australian coal producers and the Federal Government were scrambling today to understand the latest political developments.

Investors were not in a mood to be patient and wiped millions of dollars off the value of coal miners. Curragh mine owner Coronado was down 8 per cent. New Hope was down almost 7 per cent, Whitehaven 4 per cent, Stanmore 5 per cent and Terracom almost 6 per cent.

The trade is worth an estimated $9 billion to Queensland coal producers and although restrictions have been occurring for several years there are also political tensions between China and Australia.

Hong Kong media were reporting that there were several Australian coal ships stranded at ports for more than a month, but this may be caused by slow customs approvals.

The South China Morning Post said there were reports of about 7 million tonnes of Australian coal stranded.

Chinese authorities were understood to have communicated the ban verbally, but it also comes at a time of the year when China’s coal importers face normal quota restrictions. There have also been moves to reduce imports in favour of domestic producers.

Minerals Council chief executive Tania Constable said the industry was aware of the comments.

“We are aware of trade media and analyst comments on these matters. The trade with China changes through the year based on a range of factors, including quotas. Australia will continue to see demand for its high quality of coal and the medium-term outlook remains positive,” she said.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham was yet to get any confirmation of a ban and the Queensland Government was equally in the dark. Industry sources said there were some shipping delays caused by the time it takes to get approvals, but tensions between the two countries have been so strained that the Government is having difficulty getting access.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison played down the issue, suggesting it was “just part of their normal process” rather than a targeted ban, however, even the companies involved are not prepared to be that confident.

“We’re looking at those reports and obviously raising those issues as appropriate with the relevant authorities,” Morrison said.

Morrison suggested domestic coal quotas were “not uncommon” in China “from time to time” and should not be overstated.

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