Last summer, I wrote about the prospects for getting into the coal market. At the time, I pointed out that “just because coal is up 140% does not mean that Joe’s Coal Mine is all of a sudden 140% more profitable.” And indeed, like so many bull markets of that halcyon summer, the bull market in coal came to a crashing halt, and brought down with it coal stocks, as well as the only coal-focused exchange-traded fund in town at the time, the Van Eck Market Vectors Coal (KOL).
The story has been pretty straightforward and painfully familiar: The global economy tanked, including China, and thus energy and steel demand for coal dried up. At least, that’s what happened to the demand for the spot coal that shows up on charts. The reality from the coal company’s perspective is that long-term contracts drive the bottom line, and those long-term contracts are negotiated based on real supply and demand – how many boatloads of the stuff go from point A to point B, and on what schedule.