Patriot off to losing start

DESPITE closing the first quarter with a net loss, US producer Patriot Coal called the period “a very solid start” on increased prices for both metallurgical and thermal coal which has left it feeling optimistic for the year.
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Image courtesy of Patriot Coal.

Donna Schmidt

For the period ended March 31, the company reported record revenue of $US577 million, compared to $467.3 million in the same quarter last year. Sales volume and price improvements were both cited for the year-on-year jump.

However, the company slipped to a $15.3 million net loss between January and March, versus earnings of $4.26 million a year ago.

First-quarter sales for Patriot were on the rise, up 5% to 8 million tons from 7.6Mt. The sales split was 6.1Mt thermal and 1.9Mt met, compared with 6Mt thermal and 1.6Mt met last year.

"This quarter marked a very solid start for the year,” Patriot president Richard Whiting said.

“We expect 2011 performance to be our best yet as a public company, with record sales of high-margin metallurgical coal.”

Whiting highlighted the strategic work the company was doing to further its performance next year and beyond.

“We are intensely focused on our plans to expand metallurgical coal production to at least 11 million tons by 2013, and we have substantially increased our participation in export thermal markets,” he said, noting that Patriot has two major legacy coal supply agreements set to expire.

Additionally, the company has made significant progress on the contract front by locking in the annual business for its metallurgical sector which can leave it with excellent margins.

“We booked more than 3 million tons of met coal for 2011 and 2012 delivery at an average selling price of $173 per ton,” Whiting said.

“Our average selling price for met coal for the remainder of 2011 now stands at nearly $150 per ton. On the thermal side, we continued to benefit from rising prices in the global marketplace, and have now contracted more than 3 million tons for delivery to international markets in 2011 and 2012."

Patriot senior vice-president and chief financial officer Mark Schroeder spoke to the solid production recorded at nearly all the company’s mining complexes, in addition to the rises in met sales and pricing.

"Our planned met expansion in 2011 is progressing well, and we increased met sales in the first quarter as a result of incremental production from our new and expanded mines,” he said.

“We continue to forecast 2011 met sales between 8 and 8.4 million tons.”

The company’s capital expenditure budget will match those expansion plans; capex totaled $30.4 million in the first quarter and whole-year Patriot estimates it will come to $150-175 million.

Looking ahead, the producer still anticipates sales volumes of 30-32Mt, at a cost per ton of $63-67 for the Appalachia segment and $40-43 for the Illinois Basin segment.

Priced thermal output for the remainder of the year and for next year is 6.1Mt and 4.7Mt respectively as the legacy contracts, priced significantly below current market prices, come to a close.

In the meantime, Patriot has 0.6-1Mt of met coal and 1-1.3Mt of thermal coal remaining to be priced for this year.

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