Xstrata ups coal price offers to Japanese utilities

SYDNEY Thu Oct 25, 2007 3:01am BST

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SYDNEY Oct 25 (Reuters) - Xstrata Plc XTA.L has upped its offer in thermal coal term contract negotiations with Japanese utilities by as much as 20 percent to $78 a tonne on a worsening supply outlook, industry sources said on Thursday.

But the utilities, such as Chubu Electric (9502.T), balked at the steep increase in prices, producers and Japanese buyers said.

"Japanese utilities are not interested at this point and are going to reject the offer," said a source familiar with the negotiations.

"The proposed price is on par with spot prices and they don't see why they have to pay such a high price since this is a long-term contract."

He said the utilities were expected to counter offer at below $70 a tonne.

Xstrata, the world's largest thermal coal producer, had previously offered coal in the October 2007-September 2008 annual contracts at about $69-$71 a tonne, but a recent bull-run in forward 2008 coal prices on the globalCOAL index on an expected worsening supply situation next year prompted the price increase.

Coal swap prices for 2008 jumped to an all-time high of $79.75 a tonne on Oct. 18, while benchmark spot prices on the Newcastle index have persistently hovered at around $75 a tonne for the past three weeks, data from electronic trading platform globalCOAL showed.

Rio Tinto Coal (RIO.AX)(RIO.L), the world's second-largest coal producer, has yet firm up a price for the contracts, a second source said.

"The discussions are going on but there is no price on the table. The talks are focusing on tonnage and delivery periods at the moment," the source said.

WAIT-AND-SEE

Some Japanese utilities say they have mostly accumulated enough stocks for winter and early 2008 through long-term contracts with Chinese and Indonesian suppliers, and were now holding off large purchases as spot coal prices continue to hover at record levels.

"We are hoping that prices will stabilise," said a source from a Japanese utility.

But producers said prices were expected to continue rising and Japanese utilities should not delay further.

"We really see next year's market to be a situation of over-demand and under-supply. Each contract conclusion will only take more volumes out of the market and push prices higher," said a source from a major Australian producer.

Producers and traders said rising domestic coal prices in China would also prompt Chinese producers, such as Shenhua Energy Ltd (601088.SS)(1088.HK) and China Coal (1898.HK), to trim exports and keep more supplies for utilities on the mainland.

Coal prices in China, the world's top producer and consumer of the commodity, hit a record in the main shipment port of Qinhuangdao last week, government bodies said on Wednesday. [ID:nPEK69411]

Coal with calorific value of 6,000 kcal/kg was offered at 535 yuan ($71.41) per tonne on Oct. 15 in Qinhuangdao, up 50 yuan from its trough in May, said the Ministry of Commerce in a report on its Web site (www.mofcom.gov.cn). (Additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori in Tokyo)

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