SHANGHAI, Oct 25 - China's coal imports jumped 22 percent in September from a year ago, pushing net coal imports in the first nine months of the year above the total for all of 2009, data from official customs showed on Monday.
Although the latest trade numbers mean China has an average coal import rate of about 10 million tonnes per month, many market participants remain cautious about its ability to sustain that pace over the coming months.
China's net coal imports stood at 103.4 million tonnes in 2009.
"Chinese buyers have been out of the market for the past two months, and I believe a big chunk of the September imports were actually shipments that were due to be delivered in August, but postponed because of high stockpiles," said a coal trader.
Thermal coal imports jumped 23.4 percent to 5.05 million tonnes in September, while coking coal imports slipped 1.08 percent to 4.17 million tonnes as steel mills were forced to pare production amid an energy saving drive.
For a breakdown of China's coal trade in September, click [ID:nBJL002087]
Some coal exporters and analysts, including the International Energy Agency, were expecting China's net coal imports to soar by 70-100 percent to 170 million tonnes or more in 2010, boosting coal prices globally.[ID:nLDE64D1MP]
But the National Energy Administration on Monday forecast net imports to rise 16 percent to 120 million tonnes this year, which implies average monthly net imports in the final quarter of the year of about 4.4 million tonnes based on the latest official data, a sharp scale-back from recent months. [ID:nTOE69O02X]
The agency cited a narrowing gap between domestic and international coal prices and the high year-earlier base for the cuts in fourth-quarter purchases.