What happened 

Shares of Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE:CLD) are plunging today, down by 15.2% as of 12:33 p.m. EST, after the coal miner reported weak fourth-quarter results.

So what

Revenue contracted 6.2% in the quarter to $213.9 million as tons sold dropped 19.2% to 13.5 million tons and realized price per ton fell $0.17 to $11.98. As a result, net income was down 27.2% to $17.8 million, despite an income tax benefit of $29.5 million in the quarter. On an adjusted basis, Cloud Peak posted a $0.16-per-share loss. 

Coal traveling by rail through a forest.

Image source: Getty Images.

Analysts were expecting $245.8 million in revenue and a loss of just $0.01 per share, so results were well below what investors were anticipating. That's what's driving the stock lower today. 

Now what

The coal industry is in rough shape, despite some recent optimism over political changes in Washington, D.C. The fact remains that coal power plants are being shut down at a rapid rate in the U.S., and countries in Asia that once demanded U.S. coal are now turning to renewable energy. Long term, I don't see the coal mining business having a very strong future, and these fourth-quarter results were just the latest reminder of the rough road ahead.

Travis Hoium has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.