China Shunning Russian Coal With Banks Nervous Over Sanctions

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(Bloomberg) — Chinese power plants and steelmakers are looking for alternatives to Russian coal after some domestic banks suggested they avoid purchases due to the mounting sanctions being imposed on Moscow.

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Some state-own firms were sent private client notes by the lenders advising them to halt buying Russian coal as tightening global restrictions could cause “unexpected damage” to China’s importers, according to people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be named as the issues are commercially sensitive.

At least two of China’s largest state-owned banks are limiting financing for Russian commodities. That includes Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., which has stopped issuing U.S. dollar-denominated letters of credit from its offshore unit for Chinese firms seeking raw materials from Russia. Yuan-denominated credit lines are still available for some clients, however.

The Chinese coal importers are now waiting for clearer policy signals from Beijing on whether they can resume purchases, while traders are seeking transactions in yuan rather than dollars, according to the people. China has so far been ambiguous on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it tries to balance its ties to Moscow with its role as a global power.

Unlike some other commodities such as oil, China is not heavily reliant on coal imports, producing around 90% of its needs itself. Of the volumes it does bring in, around 14% came from Russia last year, customs data show. Even so, if China does accept more Russian coal, it will likely weigh on Asian prices.

Russia will need to divert 38% of its coal exports, or 82 million tons, from Europe and Ukraine to China and other Asian countries if the crisis goes on, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Michelle Leung said in a note. Demand from China and India is likely to weaken as they crank up local production, while Indonesia is planning to increase its shipments overseas this year, she said.

China’s benchmark thermal coal futures rose by 2.3% to 789 yuan a ton early Tuesday. Without supply from Russia, China could look to import more from Indonesia, the world’s top thermal coal shipper. Indonesian coal futures traded in Singapore rose Monday to the highest since Nov. 10.

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