United States-based coal companies continue to beat analysts' estimates. Add Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE:ANR) to a list that includes Peabody Energy (NYSE:BTU) and Arch Coal (NYSE:ACI) that impressed Wall Street with their third-quarter financial results. While Alpha Natural Resources did turn in a loss for the quarter, it came in much less steep than anticipated. Investors can thank management's foresight for this, as they cut production in advance of perceived pricing weakness and have suspended operations at more than 12 plants since September.

Recent tailwinds have also provided a nice boost to these companies on the heels of rising natural gas prices that are increasing the demand for the sooten resource by utilities both domestically and abroad. With the futures curve for natural gas in a state of contango, coal companies appear to have a much brighter future than most had forecasted in the first half of 2012.

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