NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Top coal consumer China should see import demand more than double in the next four years and India will be close behind as both hoover up supplies on international markets to feed rapidly growing power industries, industry executives said on Monday.
China's thermal coal imports could rise to 200 million tonnes in 2015 from around 90 million tonnes in 2011, Neil Dhar, executive vice president of trading house Noble Group, told the Coaltrans Asia conference.
At 90 million tonnes, China's 2011 imports would be steady from 2010, he said. That would indicate shipments would rise for the rest of the year, as China's imports in the first four months of 2011 were down a quarter on 2010.
The flow into China, which emerged as the world's second-largest coal importer after Japan last year, fluctuates according to domestic coal prices and whether or not those are high enough to encourage more electricity output from coal-fired power producers.
China boosted power prices on Monday in an attempt to ease its worst power shortages since 2004. That may encourage more coal imports to boost power supply.
India's thermal imports could rise to more than 100 million tonnes by 2015, from around 67 million tonnes in 2011, Dhar said. Imports would jump by almost 10 million tonnes this year, he added.
Despite a bullish long-term outlook, Asian coal prices have been depressed in recent months, largely due to the aftermath of the Japanese quake and tsunami in March that knocked out some coal-fired plants.
The index for Australian coal on the globalCOAL index closed at $119.47 a tonne on Friday, down from more than $140 in January when prices were driven up by flooding and wet weather in Australia's eastern Queensland state.
WHO BUYS MORE FROM INDONESIA?
India will overtake Japan as the biggest buyer of Indonesian coal in 2011, staying ahead of China in the competition for supply from the world's top thermal coal supplier. Most of India's coal imports come from Indonesia.
India's domestic shortfall in coal supplies to meet power demand will spur the country to import up to 60 million tonnes from Indonesia this year, five million tonnes more than last year and surpassing Japan as top importer, said Bob Kamandanu, chairman of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association.
Imports from Indonesia to India, Asia's third-largest economy, would race to 90 million tonnes by 2013, Kamandanu told Reuters.
"Japan has traditionally been the leader at importing Indonesian coal, but now India is surpassing it," Kamandanu said on the sidelines of the conference. "In terms of tonnage, India is moving toward 50-60 million tonnes... very strong.
Demand from India's growing number of independent power producers would push the country's imports, Kamandanu said.
Japan, which suffered a massive earthquake and tsunami in March, would import 57 million to 58 million tonnes of Indonesian coal this year, down from previous peaks of around 65 million tonnes and unchanged from 2010.
The disaster in Japan shut down some coal-fired power plants along the northeastern coast, crimping demand. Japan's thermal coal imports in April fell 13.4 percent on the year to 6.591 million tonnes.
CRANKING UP OUTPUT
Indonesia's coal mining companies are already cranking up production to meet the fast pace of demand growth, and the country and Kamandanu forecast the country would produce 340 million tonnes this year up from 320 million tonnes in 2010.
"All the big guys are increasing their numbers," he said.
Bayan Resources Tbk, the country's eighth-largest coal miner, is projected to more than double its output to as much as 25 million tonnes by 2013 versus last year, said chief financial officer Alastair McLeod. The company's main focus was on striking long-term supply deal to India, he added.
Bayan expects to produce 14.5 million to 15.5 million tonnes in 2011, up from 11.9 million tonnes in 2010, he told Reuters in an interview.
"We started two new mines in 2008 and two new mines in 2009, therefore they have a ramp-up profile over four or five years before they get up to their capacity," McLeod said. "We'll be continually ramping up -- our target by 2013 is to get to 20-25 million tonnes."
Another major Indonesian coal producer, Bhakti Energi, is also eyeing the stiffening competition between China and India for Indonesian supplies.
"India has no alternative for its energy resources. India will become a very good importer for Indonesia," said Bhakti's president director Jeffrey Mulyono.
"China is different. China is growing well in demand but they still have alternatives for fulfilling (coal) combinations with their own development."
Mulyono expects Indonesian coal output to rise at least 10 percent annually over five years, and sees the easternmost province of Papua tapping into its huge coal reserves longer-term.