Prices hurt coal exporters

MANY coal companies exporting from Newcastle were losing money at current coal prices, the Gunnedah-based Whitehaven Coal said yesterday.

Whitehaven shares emerged from a two-day trading halt called by the company before the release of yesterday's quarterly report, which warned of "weak markets" and "uncertain" prices.

Whitehaven and its biggest shareholder, Nathan Tinkler, would have hoped for a share-price boost from Thursday's state government approval of a key asset, the proposed Maules Creek open-cut near Boggabri.

But the stock fell instead, closing more than 4.5 per cent down at $3.05, a far cry from the $5.50 a share that Mr Tinkler had proposed before abandoning a takeover bid in August.

With about 20 per cent of Whitehaven stock, Mr Tinkler is lobbying for change at board level and is believed to have fallen out with Whitehaven founder and managing director Tony Haggarty.

Whitehaven chairman and former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile told the stock exchange yesterday that Mr Haggarty would not remain in charge "indefinitely" and an executive search was under way.

Whitehaven said its total coal production was up by more than 40 per cent to about 1.6 million tonnes for the three months to the end of September.

The company hopes to produce about 11 million tonnes a year once Maules Creek starts production from 2014, indicating its importance to Whitehaven's hopes.

"Despite the current weakness in coal markets, Whitehaven intends to push ahead with this development as fast as possible," the company said.

It said coal prices had fallen substantially in the past six months, hitting new lows in the past few weeks after "rallying mildly" during July and August.

Semi-soft coking coal for steelmaking, which accounts for about 15 per cent of Newcastle exports, had fallen from $US140 a tonne to about $US115 a tonne.

The majority product, thermal coal for power stations, had fallen from above $US90 in July to less than $US80 this month.

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