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One Final Blow to the U.S. Coal Industry

By Motley Fool Staff - Apr 20, 2016 at 5:00PM

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A look at the last decade’s long, harsh decline in demand for coal, and how producer Peabody Energy's troubles fit into it.

Coal has been on the decline for years now, and last week, Peabody Energy's bankruptcy marked the fall of the last big U.S. coal producer.

In this clip from the Industry Focus: Energy podcast, Tyler Crowe and Taylor Muckerman talk about how hard the coal industry has been hit by falling demand in the last decade, and how poorly Peabody has performed in the last few years.

A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on April 14, 2016. 

Tyler Crowe: Let's start with Peabody Energy filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week.

Taylor Muckerman: Yeah. I guess the last of the big four U.S. companies to do so, I think. You have Alpha Natural Resources, Cloud Peak, and ...

Crowe: Arch Coal.

Muckerman: Arch Coal, yeah. So, finally. It's been a long time coming. 2011, I guess, is when you started to see prices start their slide, down 75% for coal since 2011. Not many people back then realized exactly what was happening when it started, but a five-year slog these companies have been going through. And in 2015, 2016, finally came to a head. You look at China, one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- demand centers for coal, they're looking at possibly a third straight year of reduced coal demand. It was down 4.7% in 2015, expectations down 2% more this year in terms of coal demand out of China. And, even in coal's backyard, West Virginia, demand down 12% last year. Maryland and Ohio both down 50% since 2005, in just the last decade, half the coal production demand that they've been using for coal power plants. And 33% nationally. So, it's been a rough decade.

Crowe: Not a good one, so far.

Muckerman: But especially in the last five years.

Crowe: I actually have a crazy stat. I did this back in December of 2015, and tweeted it out then. In December of 2010, the United States' four largest coal producers by volume had a combined market cap $32 billion. As of December 2015, that market cap was down to $300 million. 

Muckerman: Yeesh! The gnome is just shaking his head side to side.

Crowe: And that's before Peabody Energy went bankrupt, I think, actually, even before Arch Coal filed for bankruptcy. So, that number has gotten even smaller. They're not even technically companies listed on the stock market anymore because of their liquidation -- sorry, not liquidation, it's Chapter 11, so it's reorganization.

Muckerman: Apparently, they're not even planning to liquidate. I mean, maybe they are behind closed doors. But, a lot of them have kept production up or have grown production over the last year or so, in face of probably understanding that the end is near. 

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