It’s still summer in Poland. But winter is coming.
According to Reuters, outside the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, people are lining up in their cars and trucks to stock up on coal.
Why? Because 3.8 million households in the country are relying on it for heating in the winter.
“This is beyond imagination, people are sleeping in their cars,” a 57-year-old man named Artur tells Reuters. “I remember the communist times but it didn't cross my mind that we could return to something even worse.”
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland and the European Union placed an embargo on the import of coal from Russia. Although Poland produces coal, the country largely leans on imported coal for much of its household heating.
Lukasz Horbacz, head of the Polish Coal Merchant Chamber of Commerce, tells Reuters that the embargo “turned the market upside down.”
“As much as 60% of those that use coal for heating may be affected by energy poverty,” Horbacz says.
Despite climate activists’ continued efforts to replace coal in power generation, the black sedimentary rock is still in demand.
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Making a comeback
Poland isn’t the only country that’s using coal.
According to the International Energy Agency, coal consumption is set to increase globally.
“Based on current economic and market trends, global coal consumption is forecast to rise by 0.7% in 2022 to 8 billion tonnes, assuming the Chinese economy recovers as expected in the second half of the year,” the IEA says in a recent report.
“This global total would match the annual record set in 2013, and coal demand is likely to increase further next year to a new all-time high.”
The IEA notes that as the world economy bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic, global coal consumption already rebounded by roughly 6% in 2021.
Analysts point out that the supply and demand dynamics for coal could lead to its glorious revival.
“Looking at the year ahead through the northern winter with gas prices in Europe and gas supply availability, countries are turning back to coal,” Shaw and Partners senior analyst Peter O’Connor tells CNBC.
“And supply [of coal] is tight. Why? Because nobody’s building capacity and markets will remain tight given the weather and COVID. So that market will stay higher for longer, probably well into the 2023 calendar year.”
Time to revisit coal stocks again?
To be sure, coal is no longer making headlines in the investing world. In fact, the only coal-focused ETF — the VanEck Vectors Coal ETF (KOL) — ceased trading in December 2020.
But the industry is far from dead.
Alliance Resource Partners (ARLP), a diversified producer and marketer of steam coal to major U.S. utilities and industrial users, recently raised its cash distribution to investors by 14%.
The stock is also up 91% year to date, in stark contrast to the broad market’s double-digit decline.
Another example is Peabody Energy (BTU), a coal producer headquartered in St. Louis. The company’s products are essential for electricity generation and steelmaking. Its shares are up 107% in 2022.
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