SINGAPORE: China’s coal imports fell in April from a 15-month high in the prior month, government data showed on Tuesday, as weak power demand, high inventories and sliding domestic prices curbed overseas purchases.
The world’s top coal consumer brought in 40.68 million tonnes of the fossil fuel last month, down from 41.17 million tonnes in March, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.
April and May are typically the low months for electricity consumption in China as the weather warms but temperatures are not high enough to spur an increase in demand for air conditioning.
However, last month’s imports were 73% higher than the same period in 2022 as industrial demand increased after the removal of COVID-19 controls and more shipments from Australia arrived after an unofficial import ban was removed.
For the first four months of the year, China imported a total of 142.48 million tonnes of coal, up 89% year-on-year, customs data showed.
Daily coal consumption at utilities in eight coastal regions fell to around 1.74 million tonnes in late April from 1.87 million tonnes a month earlier, according to data from the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association (CCTD) released last month.
Coal inventory at utilities rose to around 32.6 million tonnes as of the end of April, sufficient for 19 days of use, according to the CCTD data.
Domestic thermal coal prices fell in April, with 5,500 kilocalories (kcal) coal declining to about 1,000 yuan ($144.67) a tonne in northern Chinese ports from 1,130 yuan a tonne in late March.
An expectation of weak coal prices in the coming weeks and the dwindling price competitiveness of overseas purchases provided little incentive for utilities to increase imports.
Coal demand is forecast to pick up in the summer season from June to August amid expectations that lower-than-usual rainfalls in southern Chinese regions could curb hydropower generation and boost utilisation of coal-fired power plants.
China Electricity Council forecast last week that power consumption would grow significantly in the second quarter, lifting the country’s power use by 6% in the first half of 2023 from a year earlier.
China’s power demand rose 3.6% year-on-year in the first quarter.