Three Years Ago This Coal Mine Was Worth $624 Million. Now It Sold for $1

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Steelmaking Coal Prices Plummeting

The destructive force of a collapse in world coal prices has been underscored by the sale of a mine valued at A$860 million ($631 million) three years ago for just a dollar.

Brazilian miner Vale SA and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. sold the Isaac Plains coking-coal mine in Australia to Stanmore Coal Ltd., the Brisbane-based company said Thursday in a statement. Sumitomo bought a half stake for A$430 million in 2012.

A slump in the price of coking coal, used to make steel, to a decade low is forcing mines to close across the world and bankrupting some producers. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the biggest U.S. producer, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter. It was valued at $7.3 billion in 2008.

Isaac Plains in Queensland “was one of the most exciting coal projects in Australia,” Investec Plc analysts said in a note to investors on Friday. The site has a resource of 30 million metric tons, according to Stanmore.

“The outlook for coal is still very difficult,” Roger Downey, Vale’s executive director for fertilizers and coal, said on Thursday after Stanmore announced the sale. “We see even in Australia mines that are still in the red and at some point that has to change. We have quite adverse and challenging markets.”

Restart Output

Coal’s demise is just part of a broader slump in commodity prices, which fell to the lowest in 13 years this month. The benchmark price for coking coal exported from Australia has slumped 24 percent this year to $85.40 a ton on Friday, according to prices from Steel Business Briefing. The quarterly benchmark price peaked at $330 a ton in 2011, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Production from Isaac Plains began in 2006 and continued through 2014, when it was closed. Its peak output was 2.8 million tons a year, with coal sold to steelmakers in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Stanmore said it would be responsible for A$32 million in rehabilitation costs linked to the mine.

The company plans to restart output at Isaac Plains at a reduced production rate. It sees “significant” synergies with its adjacent Wotonga deposit, only recently acquired and yet to be exploited. It’s also secured a $42 million loan from Taurus Mining Finance Fund to help finance a return to production.

Stanmore shares jumped 67 percent Thursday after announcing the purchase. The company has a market value of A$30 million.

The closing of Isaac Plains and a second mine in Australia shut last year, Integra Coal, led to a 7.2 percent reduction in Vale’s total coal output in the first half of 2015. It took a $343 million writedown on its Australian coal assets, part of total impairments of $1.15 billion last year, Vale said Feb. 26.