Coal’s lost decade is coming to an end. Here’s why

The dark days could be coming to an end for coal - or at least to some extent.

Thermal coal (the kind used in power generation) has felt a decade of rising investment and a growing labour force hitting returns on production (in four key countries it declined at a rate of three per cent per annum between 2004-12). But Goldman Sachs believe the industry has now "crossed an inflection point".

2013, it says, marks a return to production growth.

Slowing demand growth and pressured margins will see a change of focus from fast-track expansions to efficient operations, says the bank.


But this could bring mixed blessings for the producers, because higher volumes and lower costs at company level implying an industry-wide downward shift in the cost curve.

So the outlook’s still subdued. Demand for coal in India and other emerging markets probably won’t match China’s surge, which will most likely decline over coming years.


Goldman also thinks carbon emissions trading between China, the US and Canada is an "important milestone" when it comes to undermining demand.

At the moment, carbon prices are unlikely to impact consumption, but investor movement towards other kinds of power generation will have an effect.


The bank's sticking to its current cautious price forecast of US$83/85/86 per tonne for 2014/15/16, adding that the industry could well be subject to deflationary pressures in the form of rising productivity and falling commodity currencies - largely offsetting the impact of input cost inflation and rising strip ratios.