During the January-March period, the company’s Armstrong Coal subsidiary sold 1,424,000 tons of high-sulfur coal at an average sale price of $42.44/ton, down from 1,967,000 tons at an average sale price of $48.98/ton in the year-ago quarter. Cost of sales also declined, however, to $36.99/ton in the first three months of 2016 compared with $40.08/ton a year earlier. Total revenue was $60.4 million in the latest quarter, a 37% decrease from $96.3 million in the first quarter of 2015. Armstrong recorded a net loss of $13.4 million in the quarter, a slight improvement from a net loss of $15.3 million in the first quarter of 2015.
Armstrong officials said they continue to see weakness in the U.S. steam coal markets driven by low natural gas prices, increased government regulations and continuing mild weather. On that latter front, “it would help to have 60 to 70 straight days of 90° temperatures, even 95°,” this summer, said Martin Wilson, Armstrong president and CEO.
Armstrong is hardly the only coal company praying for a hot summer to help electric utilities burn down bulging coal stockpiles and rekindle demand, potentially late this year or in 2017. They may get their wish as several weather forecasters, including the National Weather Service and the Weather Channel, are calling for a hotter than normal June, July and August across almost all of the country.
Until a recovery arrives, Armstrong is cutting costs wherever possible. For the remainder of 2016, production costs are expected to be in the range of $36 to $36.50 per ton, according to Wilson.
Cost-cutting explains the decision to shut down the Parkway continuous miner operation. “Our other mines have lower costs than the Parkway mine,” Wilson said. Armstrong Coal continues to operate the Equality and Lewis Creek surface mines in Ohio County, Kentucky, and the Survant and Kronos deep mines in Ohio and Muhlenberg counties, respectively.
In response to a question, Wilson said Armstrong is contracted to produce about 5.6 million tons in 2016, down more than 20% from 7.7 million tons in 2015. “It will take well into 2017 to get the supply and demand more in line, so I would be extremely cautious about saying we’ll sell more than what we’re committed for in 2016,” he said.
Next year most likely will be another challenging year for the domestic coal industry, Wilson said, as Armstrong is starting to see solicitations aimed at locking in lower-priced tons for next year. “I think people’s margins — I can’t say this for the entire industry — will be down for the majority of producers in 2016 and 2017.” For 2017, Armstrong so far has 4.3 million tons of coal contracted at an average price in the low $40s/ton, he said. Wilson said the company may have a further 2017 sales update during its second-quarter earnings conference later this summer.