The crisis in eastern Ukraine has emboldened Europe and the United
States to impose broad sanctions on Russia. But Europe finds itself
in a precarious position, with almost a third of the natural gas the
continent consumed in 2013 flowing from Russia, according to the
U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Europe’s heightened concerns about energy security could provide an
opportunity for U.S. coal companies, which have been hurt by
declining domestic consumption, to step in and fill the gap as
winter approaches. More than half of U.S. coal exports already reach
"Export demand will certainly increase, with the situation in Russia
and Ukraine having a big impact on Europe with respect to natural
gas," said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr
Trust in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
"In the short term, there's no question that a rise in export demand
will be helpful to coal stocks."
Yet significant headwinds at home would likely make any comeback in
coal companies’ stocks short-lived and hard-fought.
Even as the broader stock market has rebounded from the lows seen
during the financial crisis, coal stocks have languished.
Shares of Peabody Energy Corp <BTU.N>, the biggest U.S. producer of
coal, have declined more than 27 percent since March 9, 2009, when
the S&P 500 hit its financial crisis nadir, closing at 676.53
While the S&P has nearly tripled from that day, the Dow Jones U.S.
Coal Index <.DJUSCL> has lost 7.7 percent in that time. The last
three-plus years have been particularly bad for the coal index,
which has lost nearly three-quarters of its value since April 2011.
The index includes just three stocks - Peabody, CONSOL Energy
<CNX.N> and Alpha Natural Resources <ANR.N>. CONSOL, which is more
diversified and derives around a third of its revenue from natural
gas, is the only one up on the year so far. It has gained 5.3
percent, but still lags the wider S&P 500 <.SPX>, which is up more
than 8 percent.
Peabody is down around 20 percent this year, and Alpha Natural has
swooned 45 percent.
CONSOL is the only one of the three expected to show a profit in the
next two years, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine, which tracks
corporate profit estimates.
[to top of second column]
Competition with natural gas, the emergence of renewable energy
technologies and new environmental regulations contributed to a fall
in U.S. coal production in 2013 to the lowest levels since 1993,
according to the Energy Information Administration.
Domestic coal consumption is slated to decline by 2.7 percent in
2015, as federal standards requiring power plants to reduce air
pollution expedites a shuttering of coal power plants. U.S. coal
consumption peaked in 2007 and has declined nearly 37 percent since
then, EIA data shows.
That may temper any gains in coal stocks, both in scale and
"I just don’t know if any of this – the situation in Russia and
Ukraine – would be sufficient enough to overcome significant
pressure in the domestic market," Cecilia said.
Energy stocks have overall remained favorable for investors, but not
necessarily those with money in coal. The S&P 500 energy sector
<.SPNY> is outperforming the wider index with a 9.3 percent gain so
far in 2014.
"We look at the domestic energy landscape, and the abundant supply
of natural gas has impacted coal dramatically," said Timothy Rooney,
vice president of product management and research for Nationwide
"Generally, energy in the U.S. is a good long term investment, but
that’s really being driven by oil and natural gas."
(Reporting by Akane Otani; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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