By Ambar Warrick
Investing.com-- Australian shares of BHP Group (ASX: BHP ) fell over 1% on Wednesday as a sharp drop in coal production during the September quarter offset steady output from its iron ore facilities.
The world’s largest miner said energy coal production in the three months to September 30 fell 38% to 2.6 million tons, due to adverse weather conditions and ongoing labor shortages. Metallurgical coal production fell 1% to 6.7 million tons.
Coal was BHP’s biggest moneymaker for fiscal 2022, helping it log its biggest annual profit in 11 years as disruptions in the global energy market pushed coal prices to record highs earlier this year.
Coal prices were largely boosted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which disrupted natural gas supplies from Moscow and saw several countries resort to coal to meet energy shortfalls.
But BHP is facing difficulty in producing the electricity generating material due to a shortage of skilled workers in New South Wales. Wet weather also impacted production, as the region experienced thrice as much rainfall in the quarter as compared to last year.
In addition to weaker production, coal prices have also now begun retreating from annual highs due to fears of slowing economic activity. The outlook for metallurgical coal is also under pressure from waning demand in major importer China.
Still, BHP forecast “strong long-term demand” for high-grade steelmaking coal, and maintained its 2023 production guidance at 29 million to 32 million tons. The miner also maintained its annual energy coal guidance at 13 million to 15 million tons.
BHP’s iron ore production grew 3% in the quarter to 65.1 million tons, on steady output from Western Australia.
But the outlook for metal markets remains uncertain, especially after peer Rio Tinto on Tuesday reported weaker quarterly iron ore shipments and cut its forecast for the year.
Slowing economic growth in China has weighed heavily on metal markets this year, with demand in the world’s largest commodity importer expected to remain weakened by its strict zero-COVID policy.
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