Falling coal prices and soaring costs have forced Australia’s producers to start trimming output and letting go of some workers, hurting miners, rail and port operators and potentially threatening plans for over $30 billion of investment in new mines. Miners operating in Australia, led by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata, have long been envied for their proximity to China, the biggest consumer of coal, but that advantage has been whittled away this year. Coal producers have been hit by a triple whammy of rising wages, equipment and fuel bills plus new taxes, growing coal exports from the US and softer demand in China for thermal coal in power plants and coking coal in steel mills.Thermal coal prices have fallen 20 per cent this year to a near two-year low of $92 a metric tonne (1.1 tonne) at the Australian port of Newcastle, based on globalCOAL’s index, which has left prices close to the operating cost for some mines. Analysts say the coal projects most likely to be shelved are those in Queensland’s untapped Galilee Basin, where India’s GVK and Adani Enterprises are among the biggest players, while a Rio Tinto project in New South Wales may also be delayed.
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