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Sunday 3 April 2016

Coal still has a future

The local economy in Queensland is currently hurting badly as coal miners falter with coal prices having fallen more than 60% over the last five years. Majors such as US owned Peabody Energy are going into administration or Chapter 11 which is threatening thousands of jobs in mines they operate here.

In November 2015 the OECD agreed to restrict coal fired power stations being financed by government while about two years earlier the World Bank also decided that they would only provide finance for coal in rare circumstances. These types positions are driven by the fact that environmentally coal is a dirty energy source compared to others such as gas, solar wind and nuclear. Nobody could logically argue against this.

Despite this there are some inescapable facts about coal that means it still will be a massive energy source for the world for many years to come. 

These are:
-It is still the cheapest source of fuel for base load electricity and currently accounts for about 40% of global electricity supply. Huge!
-In the third world coal demand is still growing as the need for electricity rapidly grows with urbanisation in countries such as India and China.
-While demand for coal in developed countries is decreasing the global demand overall is still growing.
-For the third world, coal is also a source of energy that is safely, easily and cheaply transported and stored. You can literally pile it up in heaps in a yard whereas gas for example needs extremely expensive infrastructure that these nations struggle to afford.

McKinsey & Co forecast that despite the boom in renewable energy fossil fuels like coal and gas will still be the dominant source of energy. Their forecast is that by 2040 renewable energy sources will only contribute about 17% to global energy needs and coal will still be meeting 31% of demand. 

Inevitably coal prices will recover and could do so quite spectacularly from where they are now in my view. Clearly demand will be strong for the next few decades while at the same time the supply side will reduce with action the World Bank, OECD and green groups are taking.

Therefore shares in low cost miners of thermal coal look like pretty good buying at the moment if you adopt a long term view.

All for now,
+Brad Skelton
Depth Commodities

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