Coal Trends: A Douple-Dip Recession Predicting Tool? (ANR, WLT, PCX, ACI, JRCC, YZC, KOL, FCX, JJC)

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Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: ANR) and Walter Energy Inc. (NYSE: WLT) are signaling some disturbing trends that only bring on more fears of recession.  The companies have both lowered their coal targets ahead.  Sadly, that lower target is due to lower demand from what have been the growth markets in Asia.  The fallout is all over the coal sector with new 52-week lows being seen today, but this leads to lower demand in other leading commodities as well.

Alpha Natural Resources has cut its 2011 coal shipment targets down to 102.5 to 109.5 million tons from a prior range of 104 to 112 million tons. Lower metallurgical coal exports to Asia are forcing it to cut production at some of its domestic coal mines.  The company is also reviewing its 2012 estimates as well with global market conditions and it will adjust the 2012 at its next earnings report.

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Walter Energy’s lower guidance is due to adverse weather conditions at its Alabama mining site and in its northeast British Columbia site.  Walter now sees earnings of $1.00 to $1.16 EPS for the current quarter and sees $2.63 to $2.95 EPS next quarter.  Thomson Reuters had estimates of $3.23 EPS this quarter and $3.16 EPS next quarter.  Metallurgical coal sales guidance was cut for the second half of 2011 to 5.2 million metric tonnes from a prior target of 5.9 million metric tonnes.

Patriot Coal Corporation (NYSE: PCX), Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI), and James River Coal Co. (NASDAQ: JRCC) are all getting hit hard: Patriot is down 6.5% at $10.66 and the new 52-week range is $10.35 to $29.20; Arch Coal is down 6.4% at $16.85 and the new 52-week trading range is $16.70 to $36.99; James River is down 5.6% at $8,55 and the new 52-week range is $8.48 to $27.06.  Alpha is down over 7% at $25.07 and the new 52-week range is $23.90 to $68.05 with that low being seen today.  Walter is down over 10% at $66.93 and the new 52-week range is $63.88 to $143.76.

Oddly enough, Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. Ltd. (NYSE: YZC), a steam coal and metallurgical coal player in China, is only down 1.2% at $25.37 and the 52-week trading range is $21.70 to $41.89.

The Market Vectors Coal ETF (NYSE: KOL) is also down ‘only’ 2.4% at $35.88 and its 52-week trading range is $35.73 to $51.87.

Weather is one thing, but a slowing demand out of Asia is another issue.  The world is hoping that growth in Asia can remain high enough that the U.S. and Europe can still avoid a recession or that they can limit the impact of a new recession.  Too much time has passed for there to be a true double-dip recession, but a new poll suggests that 80% of America feels like the recession never even ended.

In copper, a leading indicator, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE: FCX), also suffering from a strike in Indonesia, is down 6.2% at $36.14 and its new 52-week range is $36.12 to $61.35.  It almost seems odd that the iPath DJ-UBS Copper TR Sub-Index ETN (NYSE: JJC) is up 0.6% at $48.38 on the day.

JON C. OGG