China's coal imports in June increased nearly 15% from a month earlier, official data showed, despite the government's effort to curb import of the material from overseas.
China imported 25.29 million tonnes of coal in June, growing 3.23 million tonnes or 14.64% from May, showed data from the General Administration of Customs on July 14.
However, compared with 27.10 million tonnes of coal imported in the same month last year, the figure declined 1.81 million tonnes, or 6.69%.
Restriction of coal imports has been maintained throughout last month and never showed any signs of relaxing by far. Power plants are not allowed to get their imported cargoes cleared at customs if they don't have import quotas.
According to market sources, most power plants have exhausted their quotas for the whole year, especially in Guangdong, Fujian and Guangxi. Some power plants in Zhejiang and Jiangsu may have quotas, but not enough to cover imports with laycans of July and beyond if no additional quotas are granted.
In June, several power plants in Jiangsu province had to cancel several cargoes arriving in July due to a lack of import quotas. Authorities reportedly suspended customs clearing services for seaborne thermal coal at Huangpu terminal of Guangzhou port in southern China's Guangdong province.
Zhao Jing, one analyst with sxcoal.com, explained some end buyers that still have quotas prefer to use them in months of high demand. "For example, if a power plant has a total quota of 120,000 tonnes for the whole year, it's not necessary to use 10,000 tonnes each month. It may use more in the busy season and less in the slack season."
The National Development and Reform Commission stressed to boost domestic production in a meeting held on July 9, ensuring sufficient supplies during the summer peak demand season, as power consumption for air conditioning surges in households.
Import restriction depressed buying appetite of Chinese end users, and has dragged imported coal prices down to extreme lows.
The most-traded Indonesian 3,800 Kcal/kg NAR thermal coal was assessed mainly at a range of $30-32/t CFR South China in June, compared with $42-44/t and $55-57/t in the same month in 2019 and 2018, respectively.
Kpler's cargo-track data showed arrivals of imported coal in June totaled 28.51 million tonnes, up from 24.64 million tonnes a month earlier. It is the highest monthly arrival in the first six months, just shy of a recent high of 29.62 million tonnes in August 2019.
Chinese domestic thermal coal prices have indeed increased a lot in June, while import prices were sitting at low levels. Big price arbitrage may have fuelled intensive buying and lead to the month-on-month rise in imports, analyst noted.
Over the first six months, China's coal imports totaled 173.99 million tonnes, a 12.7% rise from the same period last year, the GAC data showed.
(Writing by Alex Guo Editing by Jessie Jia)
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