Lower prices eat into Consol margins

CONSOL Energy, which reported fourth-quarter pre-tax income of $US16 million, will continue to face margin pressure, says chairman and CEO J. Brett Harvey.

Lou Caruana

The company’s coal and gas operations continued to improve efficiencies but lower prices continued to squeeze margins.

“Despite overachieving on many items we could control, Consol Energy saw 2013 fourth quarter unit margin contraction in both its gas and coal divisions,” Harvey said.

“Profitability was especially hampered by lower realized prices for the company's premium low-vol coal production from Buchanan Mine.”

The low-vol coal category saw meaningful margin contraction, quarter-over-quarter, as a nearly $47 reduction in per ton pricing overwhelmed a nearly $3 per ton improvement in costs.

The high-vol category saw over a $9 per ton margin contraction, while the much larger thermal category saw a nearly $5 per ton reduction in margin.

Consol’s retained mines have margins higher than those that were sold.

Consol’s liquidity at year-end 2013 remained strong at $2.1 billion, including $327 million in cash.

Cash was bolstered by the $850 million received in early December from the sale of five mines. Fourth quarter 2013 capital investments from continued operations were $483 million, of which $300 million were in natural gas-related projects.

Cash flow from operations in the quarter was $70 million, as compared to $198 million in the year-earlier quarter.

“Looking to 2014, CONSOL is poised to increase its gas production by 30% and its coal production by 5 million tons, on an annual basis, when the BMX Mine in Southwestern Pennsylvania opens late in the first quarter,” Harvey said.

“Higher natural gas and coal production, coupled with our stated $65 million reduction in annual administrative costs, should aid

profitability, even in the face of continued weak coal pricing.

“Cold winter weather is strengthening 2014 gas prices, and — if sustained — could result in Consol Energy receiving a drilling carry from its Marcellus Shale joint venture partner as early as March. Continued cold weather and a rebounding domestic economy could begin to provide support for higher thermal coal prices, too.”

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