NEWYORK, Mar. 23 -- Teck Resources Ltd., the second- largest seaborne exporter of steelmaking coal, said global supplies will be crimped this year as Chinese imports may be near a 2009 record and exceed 30 million metric tons.
"The seaborne market looks very tight for 2010 and probably beyond because it will take some time for the major producers, including ourselves, to increase production," Teck Chief Executive Officer Don Lindsay said today at a Singapore conference. Chinese imports of coking coal touched a record 34 million tons last year, he said.
BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's largest exporter of the coal, this year won a 55 percent price increase from JFE Holdings Inc., Japan's second-largest steelmaker, as the global economy picks up and Chinese purchases bolstered demand. Chinese imports surged fivefold last year after the government closed smaller unsafe mines.
"China is hungry for commodities on an unprecedented scale," Lindsay said. "Domestic supply of high-quality coking coal required will not be able to keep pace with steel production growth."
Imports by China jumped to 34.4 million tons in 2009, up from 6.85 million tons in 2008, Wu Xinchun, a consultant to the China Iron & Steel Association said Feb. 5. The government started closing mines in 2008 to improve the industry's safety record after 3,770 workers were killed in 2007, making the mines the world's deadliest.
Steel production in China last year rose 14 percent to a record as government spending boosted demand from carmakers and builders. Output will continue to rise, Teck's Lindsay said.
The Canadian company plans to raise production of coking coal by 50 percent within five years, Lindsay said. Coal was Teck's biggest contributor to sales last year, accounting for 46 percent of revenue, followed by copper that made up 28 percent.
Teck Resources swung to a net income of C$411 million ($403 million) in the fourth quarter compared with a loss of C$607 million, a year earlier, the company said in February.
"We are in a very strong position now," Lindsay said today.
Teck, the world's second-largest zinc producer, is targeting a debt-to-capitalization ratio of 25 percent to 30 percent as part of an effort to return to an investment-grade credit rating, Ron Vance, senior vice president of corporate development, said on March 2. The company is nearly finished paying down $9.8 billion of loans it incurred in 2008 to buy Fording Canadian Coal Trust.
Teck still has $800 million to repay, Lindsay said today. Once the payment is complete the board will consider reinstating its dividend.