A beleaguered US coal market surpassed 61 MMT in total exports as of October, expanding by over 14 MMT (+30%) y-o-y, and making up much of the ground lost in 2020. Thermal exports grew from only 18.4 MMT in 2020 to 29.3 MMT in 2021 (+10.9 MMT y-o-y), with India’s 9.6 MMT accounting for nearly one-third of total thermal shipments and over 3.6mt of total thermal growth. Along with India, US thermal exports to the East Asian majors rose by 2.7 MMT y-o-y to 7.9 MMT, leading fronthaul thermal shipments to double this year. USEC and USG thermal coal shipments to the Indian Ocean and Pacific reached 12.6 MMT, comprising a record 43% of total exports and 58% of total export growth.

Met coal exports, at 31.7 MMT in the first ten months, saw a gain of only 3.2 MMT (+11%) y-o-y. However, the Chinese government, sensibly or otherwise, imposed import policies that severely restricted its access to foreign met coal. Wide-spread closures along its Mongolian land border exacerbated the self-imposed supply shortage caused by its wholesale ban on Australian coal imports. Consequently, US met coal exports to China grew from only 0.6 MMT in the first ten months of 2020 to almost 9 MMT in 2021, more than making up for the 5 MMT decline in exports to the rest of the world. This trade shift toward China resulted in a 6.3 MMT increase in a fronthaul met coal shipments.

As of October, total US fronthaul coal shipments expanded by over 12.6 MMT to 27.6 MMT (+84% y-o-y), dwarfing the +1.5 MMT (+5% y-o-y) growth figure for intra-basin shipments, and contributing to an outsized tonne::mile effect in what is traditionally an intra-basin trade. However, as the USEC comprised the bulk of the increase in cargoes, its larger port infrastructures allowed Capesizes to capture most of the export gain. Capesize vessels shipped only 17 MMT of US coal in 2021 (28% share) but accounted for over 10 MMT(72%) of the total increase in exports and an even higher proportion of the fronthaul business.