Whether it's learning to drive a stick shift or jumping out of an airplane, the first time is always the hardest. The same can be said for corrections in a long-term secular bull market -- like the one we're in for commodities.
The deep correction that struck coal shares recently was the first major pause in what had been a long bull run. Still, with shares of market leaders like Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI ) , Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE ) , and Consol Energy (NYSE: CNX ) all dropping nearly 30% from recent highs, this correction has undoubtedly shaken the resolve of many a coal bull.
If second-quarter results from Fording Canadian Coal Trust (NYSE: FDG ) are any indication, investors may soon be surprised to learn how much of the storied rise was actually grounded in realistic earnings expectations. Fording owns royalties from a 60% interest in the Elk Valley coal project, while operating partner Teck Cominco (NYSE: TCK ) owns the remaining 40%.
The numbers from Fording are magnificent. The company achieved a 252% increase in net earnings to $373 million. Although the volume of coal sales increased only slightly, revenue nearly doubled to $817 million, thanks to a rough doubling of realized prices to $204 a tonne. Reassuring the shaken coal investor that this stellar quarter was no fluke, the company revealed that its 2008 contract price averaged across all coal types will be $275 per tonne.
Perhaps this look at Fording's breakout quarter will prompt some Fools to reevaluate their own outlook for coal stocks. The combination of a terrific mid-term growth outlook and a 12% dividend makes Fording Canadian Coal Trust an easy recommendation for further research. Another favorite of mine is Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR ) , which claims 21% of the U.S. metallurgical coal market. The sell-off in shares of Alpha following the recent bid by Cleveland-Cliffs (NYSE: CLF ) has created what could be an enticing entry point.