Panamax rates have seen a significant surge in 2019, maritime research consultancy Drewry noted, pointing out that this could largely be attributed to the recent firmness in India’s coal imports.
This situation is likely here to stay, according to Drewry’s lead dry bulk research analyst Rahul Sharan who added that the Indian government’s plan to invest heavily in infrastructure will underpin domestic coal demand.
Other factors contributing to the stability of coal imports include an increasing demand for electricity in India.
As pointed out, major consumers of non-coking coal in India are power plants and cement industry, while that for coking coal is the steel industry. The Indian finance minister, in her budget speech on July 5, 2019, proposed to invest USD 285 billion annually over the next five years on infrastructure – a surge of more than 150% compared with the past investment.
According to Drewry, the government has allocated the highest-ever budgetary support of USD 12 billion to the highways sector. While such plans in India have failed to materialize because of a lack of funds in the past, the consultancy said the recent initiative was expected to be implemented as the government seeks to mobilise alternative financing resources.
Indian infrastructure initiatives would result in a massive surge in demand for steel, cement and power, it was said. The spurt in demand for cement has already generated requirements for non-coking coal imports this year. India’s cement production has increased to more than 337 million tonnes in FY 2018-19, a rise of more than 13% from the previous financial year.
However, domestic coal production has been increasing at a very slow pace, leaving power companies to depend on coal imports. For instance, domestic coal production increased 5% until May 2019, but imports surged 29%.
Taking all this into account, Drewry pointed out that the inability of domestic coal producers to match domestic demand will keep imports high over the next few quarters.