• Coal mine fire has analysts ramping up met coal price forecasts with talk of Force Majeure
  • Goldman Sachs thinks PHCC prices could hit US$300/t this quarter
  • Sandfire excites with MATSA copper reserve upgrade

If you’ve been reading Stockhead over the past few days you’ll be unsurprised to hear coking coal stocks are on a tear.

And word Anglo has declared Force Majeure to customers on fourth quarter shipments from its Grosvenor mine, reported by price agencies S&P and Fastmarkets, could stir prices even further.

Anglo didn’t deny the reports, a spokesperson saying the company did not comment on its commercial arrangements with customers.

Singapore futures for premium hard coking coal have been all over the shop this week, rising as high as US$261/t before slipping back under US$250/t.

But even with the pullback in the front month contract, the market is settling into a significant contango, with December contracts running at US$281/t.

The 3.5Mtpa operation is one of the few coking coal mines that was forecast to increase output in the years ahead and its closure is sensitive given Anglo’s plans to sell its coal assets in Queensland after the collapse of a BHP (ASX:BHP) bid for the diversified London-listed miner.

Accounting for around 1.3% of the seaborne market and much of its higher quality content, the closure could last months and fuel shortages for Indian mills reliant on spot contracts and Japan-Korea-Taiwan steel mills. You can read Fastmarkets expert Paul Lim’s take on the fallout at the link below.

READ: Bulk Buys: Anglo walking on hot coals as fire hits sale process

That has threatened higher prices and seen big moves upwards this week for coal equities like Whitehaven Coal (ASX:WHC), up 13.7% in the past five days to a new 18 month high of $8.96, and Coronado Global Resources (ASX:CRN), with has risen over 10% in the same time period to $1.34.

New Hope Corp (ASX:NHC) is up only 2% in the same period, but largely trades thermal and lower grades of met coal, which garner lower prices on the seaborne market, and spooked investors by issuing $300m in convertible notes that suggested, egads, it could be ready to waste their money on M&A.

It looms as good timing for Glencore and the team of Indonesia’s Golden Energy And Resources and Australia’s M Resources, who both clear regulatory hurdles for the purchases respectively of Teck Resources’ Elk Valley Resources mines in Canada and South32 (ASX:S32) Illawarra coal operations in New South Wales.

The latter receive Foreign Investment Review Board, the last major step ahead of the +$1bn transaction clears this quarter after Bluescope Steel (ASX:BSL) elected not to exercise a preemptive right to match the bid.

But it’s not just Anglo

Grosvenor is a big player in the met coal trade, but analysts at merchant banks have already been calling met coal their preferred market for commodity exposure.

Morgan Stanley made the call this week after the Grosvenor fire and other supply cuts in the United States which will serve to tighten the market, lifting its year end forecast for PHCC to US$290/t.

Goldman Sachs thinks prices will head even higher, surging to US$300/t in the September quarter due to production issues from Anglo and its failed suitor BHP.

GS analysts reckon the world has already lost 8Mt of supply against pre-pandemic levels due to production problems caused by methane and geotechnical issues at Anglo’s Bowen Basin portfolio.

It also think waste stripping at BHP’s key BMA JV mines will see its output drip 10Mt this year.

Met coal is expected to be balances from 2024-2026, but Goldman sees a modest market deficit emerging in 2027 because of stagnating Aussie supply growth and rising demand from India, already BHP and Coronado’s largest external customer.

Higher Queensland royalty rates and cost inflation, which has seen met coal production costs run to 10 year highs, has seen Goldman lift its long run hard coking coal price from US$205/t to US$220/t.

The marginal cost base has now settled around US$240/t, suggesting it is unlikely prices could drop from current levels in the foreseeable future.

“Our analysis indicates the met coal market will be broadly balanced from 2024-2026 with increasing India demand being offset by a modest recovery in Australian supply,” GS said.

“However, we forecast a deficit from 2027 driven by underinvestment in new premium met coal supply in Australia and Canada.

“This deficit is expected even with a further increase in supply of lower quality Pulverized Coal Injection (PCI) from Russia (mostly into India), and new PCI and Semi-hard Coking Coal (SHCC) supply from Australia, which means we expect further tightening of PLV HCC market, driving increased premiums over SHCC, PCI and Semi-soft Coking Coal (SSCC).

“Our cost curve analysis for the seaborne met coal market, shows the marginal cost (90th percentile) on a quality adjusted all-in basis is currently around ~US$240/t.”

At the US$275/t average price seen in the first half, GS estimates the Queensland Government’s higher tiered royalty rates, in place since 2022, adds around US$50/t to the all-in cost base of miners like BHP and Whitehaven.


Sandfire on the up

Sandfire Resources (ASX:SFR) has ridden the recent copper wave to levels pushing all time highs.

It was up, albeit only slightly, today after announcing a 2.3Mt year on year increase in ore reserves at its MATSA copper and base metals complex in Spain over mine depletion.

RBC Capital Markets’ Kaan Peker says the announcement opens new mining areas at San Pedro and Masa Olivo and ‘marks potential mine life extension’.

RBC has an $11 price target on Sandfire and outperform rating, implying a potential upside for the ASX’s largest pure play copper stock of 21%.

Peker remained positive on the announcement, despite lower copper grades across the new reserve, which has also been preserved by the selective mining of available resource blocks to preserve mine life.

“While grades have marginally come down for copper, the total contained copper in Reserves is 23,000t higher at 588,000t, However, we do flag that Sandfire has favourably lifted commodity price modify factors, albeit very marginally,” Peker said in a client note.

“The new reserve zones within the estimate, San Pedro and Masa Olivo make up only 0.1Mt and 0.6Mt of the reserve estimate.

“We view this as important as reserves have not just been maintained by adding new areas. However, the establishment of these zones does provide longer term optionality.”

MATSA accounts of US$2.7bn of RBC’s SFR valuation or $5.96/sh, around 78% of its NAV, with the rest made up of the Motheo mine in Botswana and pre-development assets.

“This valuation assumes a mine-life of 10.5 years and long-term copper and zinc prices of US$4.00/lb and US$1.20/lb, respectively,” Peker said.

“Our estimate, modelled prior to today, would consume 100% of reserves, or only 49% of measured resources.”

The materials sector tumbled from yesterday’s lofty highs by 0.71% as iron ore prices struggled to break resistance above US$113/t, though gold held firm after US rate cut hopes were raised overnight by slowing US non-manufacturing activity data.

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Bluescope Steel (ASX:BSL) (steel) +1.6%


Today’s Worst Miners 😭

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