In the carbonaceous world of coal, Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) is king. Like many of history's remarkable rulers, this mining monarch has ambitiously extended its reach into faraway lands.
St. Louis-based Peabody has expanded operations into the Asian Pacific region with a singular determination. U.S. operations accounted for 99% of EBITDA in 2003, but today represent less than half of earnings. Peabody Energy's adaptive response to the robust outlook for coal demand in nations like China and India is now poised to pay off in spades. A clear demand divide is forming, with rising demand from the Asia-Pacific region and declining interest from the U.S. and Europe.
This emerging regional dichotomy is evident in results from Peabody's operations, corroborated by the management of fellow crusader Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) , and confirmed by my roving canary in the mines of U.S. producers such as Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI ) and Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE ) .
Already huge in Australia, Peabody also has a foot firmly planted inside China's industrial door, and is now reportedly considering a potential $1 billion joint venture to produce thermal coal in Indonesia with Swiss miner Xstrata. With China expected to become a net coal importer this year with a shortfall of more than 10 million tons, and India predicted to import at least 80 million tons by 2013, Peabody is positioning operations according to the emerging face of global coal demand.
With all this focus abroad, will Peabody's domestic affairs suffer, as the Roman Empire's did? Hardly! The new political climate toward coal in Washington has signaled challenges ahead for Appalachian miners engaged in common mountaintop removal practices, placing underground specialists such as CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX ) and Western-focused miners like Peabody at a relative advantage. Even as domestic producers have scrambled to reduce production in tandem with dwindling demand, Peabody scored a $6 billion, multi-year contract to supply utilities near the Illinois Basin.
The company is a notable leader in clean coal initiatives in China, Australia, and the United States. The FutureGen Alliance -- made up of 11 corporate sponsors, including Peabody, BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , and American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP ) -- will vie for a slice of the $3.4 billion set aside under the Obama stimulus plan, to build a pilot plant that would capture 90% of greenhouse emissions. By establishing itself as a pioneer in the race to end the reign of dirty coal, Peabody could expand its title to the king of clean coal. I encourage Fools to consider an audience with the king.