China had a net import of 217 million tons of coal in the first 10 months of this year, up 39.5 percent from a year ago, authorities said Tuesday, though the market remained sluggish with rising stockpiles and falling prices.
The high net import came amid rising stockpiles and growth slowdown in coal consumption, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
"A total of 1.87 billion tons of coal were transported by railway from January to October, down 0.6 percent year-on-year," while coal consumption, especially by power generators, slowed in the same period, the NDRC said.
By the end of October, coal inventory in major power plants reached 93.71 million tons, equal to 29 days' usage, eight more days than the same time last year, and stockpiles at major ports were 35.62 million tons, up 37 percent year-on-year, according to the NDRC.
Thermal coal with an energy value of 5,500 kilocalories per kilogram at benchmark Hebei Qinhuangdao port is currently priced at 635 to 645 yuan ($100-$102) per ton, 26 percent lower than earlier this year and 34 percent lower than a year ago, according to the NDRC.
Import coal is priced lower than domestic coal, which also bears the transportation cost from China's northern production bases to southern consumers, Liu Enqiao, an energy researcher at Beijing-based Anbound Consulting, told the Global Times Tuesday.
The transportation cost from coal-producing Inner Mongolia to the coal consumers of South China's Guangdong Province is 200 yuan per ton, a saleswoman at a Tianjin-based coal distributor, surnamed Sun, told the Global Times Tuesday.
The average price of coal originating in Indonesia and Australia is about $76 to $80 per ton, less expensive than domestic coal, and can be transported to any major port of China, Jin Zhe'nan, sales manager of Sealand Resource Energy Co, a Zhejiang-based distributor of imported coal, told the Global Times Tuesday.
Currently the coal price has plummeted back to where it was three years ago, Jin said, and remains low even though market demand has improved since August.
"Coal prices will tend to be stable in the future and may even inch up along with China's economic recovery," said Liu of Anbound, attributing the drop to shrinking demand for coal both at home and abroad, but remarking that China remains the world's major coal consumer.
Coal power accounts for about 70 percent of China's energy structure, and the country will heavily rely on coal for at least five more years though the government vowed to increase usage of renewable energy such as solar and wind power in its 12th five-year plan, he said.
The volume of imported coal in the first 10 months has exceeded the 168 million tons of net import the country had in the full year of 2011. The world's largest coal producer and consumer, China overtook Japan to become the world's largest importer of coal in 2011.