September 17, 2019 / 3:13 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Australia's New Hope flags coal market volatility, Queensland slowdown

* Thermal coal prices may follow Asia LNG recovery -CEO

* Harder for coal miners to find funding -CEO (Adds executive comments)

Sept 17 (Reuters) - Australian coal producer New Hope Corp Ltd on Tuesday said coal markets would likely remain volatile in the near term though demand is strong for high-quality thermal coal across Asia, as it posted a 41% rise in annual net profit.

The firm also forecast lower production volume from operations in Queensland state in the year through July due to delayed approvals for its Acland Stage 3 project and the pending closure of its Jeebropilly mine. It said it has begun the redundancy process for 150 employees due to the delay.

Higher production at its Bengalla joint venture in New South Wales state, where it acquired an additional 40% stake during the 2019 financial year, boosted annual earnings.

“Coal markets ... are likely to remain volatile in the near term however demand for high quality thermal coal remains strong across Asia,” New Hope said in a statement.

Prices for thermal coal have slumped 37% this year CO-FOBNWC-AU, however a recent bottoming out of Asian liquefied natural gas prices and emergent recovery this month suggests coal prices may follow suit, Chief Executive Shane Stephan said.

“There has been a pick up from July to August of ... 13-14%. You’ve had a pretty strong correlation between thermal coal pricing and LNG pricing,” Stephan told Reuters.

New Hope in the past year signed a $600 million debt facility to fund its Bengalla purchase and to develop the Acland mine and Burton project, based on expectations of demand for its higher-quality thermal coal.

“As a coal producer, it is harder to attract capital. But one of the reasons for that is the increase in political risk profile that our industry faces in Australia. It’s hard to get approvals. There’s a lot of uncertainty related to that,” Stephan said, declining to identify parties to the loan.

Net profit for the year ended July 31 was A$210.7 million ($144.7 million), compared with A$149.5 million last year, New Hope said. Revenue jumped 21%.

Barring one-off expenses, the annual net profit figure was up 3% at A$268.5 million.

The company declared a final dividend of 9 cents a share, compared with 8 cents in the prior period.

New Hope’s share price fell to its lowest in a week before paring losses to 2.8% at A$2.44 on the Australian Securities Exchange by 0222 GMT. ($1 = 1.4616 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Melanie Burton in Sydney and Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Christopher Cushing)

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