Can North Korea Save The Coking Coal Price Rally?

Coking coal prices retreated for a third straight day on Monday after two months of insane gains.

According to data provided by the Steel Index premium Australia hard coking coal prices have tripled since the beginning of July exchanging hands for $300 this week, down 3% from multi-year peaks reached last week. The steelmaking raw material is up fourfold in value over the past year.

In its December report the FocusEconomics survey of analysts covering the coking coal market indicates a steep drop from current levels with consensus forecasts pointing to $178 a tonne average price during the first quarter of next year and further declines to $125 a tonne by the end of 2017.

Even ardent bulls don’t believe current prices are sustainable but the market may get a boost from an unexpected quarter – the UN Security Council.

The UN last week slapped a new set of sanctions on North Korea including limiting its annual coal exports – all of which goes to China – to 7.5 million tonnes per year. Coal is North Korea top export earner.

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Up to end October this year, China imported 18.6 million tonnes of coal from the totalitarian state, a nearly 13% rise from 2015. That means North Korea isn’t far behind Australia, number one supplier to China, which exported 23.4 million tonnes during the first 10 months. (Mongolian exports have jumped by three-quarter to to 17.5 million tonnes this year – creating a logistical nightmare for the landlocked country).

The loss of 12 million tonnes of supply could lead to a fresh surge in the price, but China has in the past ignored some UN sanctions on the basis that it would hurt the civilian population of North Korea. Beijing has also lifted some restriction on domestic coal miners following the price surge.


Frik Else is an editor and writer for

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