There's No Light at the End of the Tunnel for the Coal Industry

The dismal forecast on the outlook of the coal industry issued by Joy Global (NYSE: JOY  ) last week alongside the company's fiscal second quarter earnings did not make for pleasant reading.

Joy is considered somewhat of an authority on the coal market as the company manufactures equipment for coal mining. As a result, the company is a proxy for the market, being a leading indicator for mine activity.

Market report
The first thing that Joy noted was that seaborne thermal coal markets remain challenged as supply of the mineral outpaces demand. Unfortunately, this problem is only likely to get worse as new legislation that was announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week comes into force.

This new legislation could be, in a word, disastrous for the U.S. coal industry. The rules will make it virtually impossible to build new coal power plants within the U.S. without carbon capture and sequestration technology. With this being the case, it is estimated that around 15% of existing U.S. coal burning capacity is due to be shut down by 2016.

Around 90% of coal produced within the U.S. is used for electricity generation, so even a small reduction in demand will have a significant impact on prices. A slump in demand of 15% is likely to push prices significantly lower. It's obvious that this will be bad news for domestic coal miners but it will be even worse for Joy.

Bad news for Joy
Thermal coal prices have been declining steadily since their pre-financial crisis peak of $190 per ton, averaging $75 per ton during May. Some analysts see the price falling as low as $60 per ton by the end of next year, and this is putting pressure on the whole industry. As prices continue to fall, pushed lower by falling demand from the U.S., coal producers around the world are likely to go under. Many of these will be Joy's customers.

Prices too low
Actually, many U.S. producers are already hemorrhaging cash. Further price declines within the coal market are only going to make matters much, much worse.

Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI  ) for example reported an average cash sales margin of 8% per ton of coal sold during the first quarter of this year. The company's operating cost per ton was 8% higher than its sales cost, so the company was losing $1.61 per ton sold. A further deterioration in coal pricing will only lead to wider losses, which is something that Arch can ill afford.

The company burned through $45 million during the first quarter, leaving $870 million in cash. The company reported a net debt-to-EBITDA ratio of just under 143 times for the quarter, while the ratio was 48 times at the end of full-year 2013.

On the other hand, Peabody (NYSE: BTU  ) is reporting a much stronger margin from its U.S. operations. The company's average cash margin per ton mined within the U.S. is closer to 26%, more than three times more than that reported by Arch. However, the company's Australian operations are where the troubles have started.

Peabody reported a cash margin of 0.3% for its Australian production for the first quarter. The company's outlook also revealed that Australian cash costs were expected to be kept within the low-mid $70 per ton range. If prices drop to the $60 per ton level as mentioned above, this could drag the company down.

All of this is bad news for Joy. As a producer of coal mining equipment, Joy relies on the capital spending budgets of companies like Peabody and Arch. If these companies are losing money and the price of coal is falling, they have little incentive to spend on new mining equipment.

Foolish summary
Overall, it would appear that the price of thermal coal is in freefall. This will only get worse if the new EPA regulations come into force. Arch Coal is already suffering from the falling price of coal, and so is Peabody, albeit to a lesser extent. Joy Global is likely to struggle going forward.

Take advantage of this little-known energy tax "loophole"
Recent tax increases have affected nearly every American taxpayer. But with the right planning, you can take steps to take control of your taxes and potentially even lower your tax bill. In our brand-new special report "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 13, 2014, at 1:40 AM, 6236 wrote:

    There is a big light at the end of the tunnel for coal. The end of odumba and liberal loons policies. And they will end. Everything the leftist touch turns to Detroit. But America has seen the evil that is odumba and co. and will not let them detroit America! Empowering States Rights will fix 90% of the problems in America.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2992525, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 9/3/2015 11:16:55 AM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Rupert Hargreaves

Rupert has been writing for the Motley Fool since December 2012. He primarily covers tobacco and resource companies with a passion for value-oriented investments. .

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,527.46 176.08 1.08%
S&P 500 1,973.73 24.87 1.28%
NASD 4,792.07 42.09 0.89%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

9/3/2015 11:01 AM
ACI $6.58 Down -0.62 -8.57%
Arch Coal, Inc. CAPS Rating: **
BTU $2.18 Up +0.04 +1.64%
Peabody Energy Cor… CAPS Rating: **
JOY $18.59 Down -3.54 -16.00%
Joy Global, Inc. CAPS Rating: ****