The Tulsa, Okla.-based company for years has adopted the character of its veteran president and CEO, Joseph Craft III, who would rather make money than headlines. Alliance and Craft managed to do both in Q3, thriving in a tough environment by posting higher production, sales and revenue in the July-September period.
Craft was his usual bullish self during an October 28 conference call with analysts to discuss earnings, proclaiming, “ALRP once again delivered growth in the 2013 quarter.” Earnings increased to $56.1 million, up from $33.2 million a year earlier. Alliance mined and sold 9.6 million and 9.5 million tons, respectively, in the quarter, compared to 9 million and 8.9 million tons, respectively, in the third quarter of 2012.
For the entire year, Alliance expects to produce at the lower range of 39.3 million to 39.6 million tons. Alliance, he said, sees the potential “for meaningful recovery in coal markets” sometime in 2014, a year when Alliance intends to resume producing and selling some of its central Appalachian metallurgical coal after taking a hiatus from met coal, because of its belief prices were insufficient, this year.
Although the company operates mines in northern Appalachia as well as central Appalachia, Alliance is primarily an Illinois Basin (IB) producer. In Q3, fully 7.5 million tons of its overall output was in the IB, where its coal fetched $52.13/ton, slightly less than the $52.20/ton it earned a year ago. Alliance realized a bit higher price of $81.49/ton on the 490,000 tons of central Appalachia coal it sold in Q3, versus $79.96/ton in the comparable period of 2012. In northern Appalachia, meanwhile, Alliance was paid $57.97/ton in the latest quarter on sales of 1.4 million tons, significantly lower than the $65.43/ton it received in the third quarter last year.
Three major IB producers for Alliance in the quarter were its River View underground mine in Union County, Ky., Gibson North underground mine in Gibson County, Ind., and venerable Dotiki underground mine in Hopkins County, Ky.
Despite the quarterly highs, all was not peaches and cream for Alliance. An unexpected outage in July at its Onton No. 9 underground mine in western Kentucky, and lower output from its new Tunnel Ridge longwall mine in Washington County, Pa., and Ohio County, W.Va., took a bite out of overall production and earnings.
Craft said Tunnel Ridge, still in ramp-up mode, was unfavorably impacted by a planned longwall move in late July and lower returns from the panel currently being mined. The good news, however, is that Alliance expects to complete a major longwall move in early December to a new reserve area “that has been encouraging, and we expect productivity and yield improvements” to drive Tunnel Ridge’s production to about 5.5 million tons in 2014, up from about 3.5 million tons this year, he said.
Also, two new Alliance-affiliated thermal coal mines in the IB should begin producing and hitting their stride in 2014. In the third quarter of next year, the Gibson South underground mine near Princeton in Gibson County, Ind., is targeted to begin producing what eventually should be 5 million tons annually, both for the domestic and export markets. Across the Wabash River in southern Illinois’ Hamilton County, the new longwall at White Oak Resources No.1 mine should begin operating in the latter half of 2014. Alliance is a major investor in the mine that eventually is expected to produce up to 6 million tons annually.
During the third quarter, Alliance signed new agreements to supply an additional 3.3 million tons through 2016. That increased to 9.4 million tons for its new sales commitments achieved since the beginning of 2013.
Never a big exporter, Alliance also dipped its collective toe in the overseas market during the quarter. “We took advantage of export market sales,” Craft said, “leading to the shipment of two vessels of Illinois Basin coal to the thermal export market.”