Whitehaven cautious of project spending

Whitehaven Coal is wary of investing in its development projects due to turbulent coal markets that have been amplified by Chinese restrictions on imports from Australia.

The company does not expect to make a final investment decision for its Narrabi Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension, Vickey Extension or Winchester South metallurgical coal projects in the 2021 financial year.

Whitehaven managing director and chief executive Paul Flynn said the company’s project expenditure would occur under its strict capital allocation framework, which would see greenfield projects constructed sequentially.

“We are continuing to progress our development pipeline but work is proceeding cautiously and in line with the company’s strict capital allocation framework,” he said.

Whitehaven has submitted environmental impact statements for both the Narrabi Stage 3 Extension project in New South Wales and the Winchester South project in Queensland, while supplying a maiden reserve statement of 350 million tonnes at Winchester South.

The three development projects are aimed to bolster Whitehaven’s run-of-mine coal production in the next 10 years.

In the wake of China’s withdrawal from the Australian coal market, Whitehaven’s outlook suggests that local seaborne coal is being sold to India, Pakistan and the Middle East – markets that have historically traded to China.

Whitehaven also highlighted that demand for its product in India was growing as the company anticipated its sales volumes to return to pre-COVID levels in 2021.

Despite tensions looming, the company delivered a 64 per cent rise to its run-of mine production to 5.1 million tonnes during the December 2020 quarter, with its managed sale coal production up by 15 per cent to 3.9 million tonnes on the previous corresponding period.

Flynn said the company had tightened its guidance as a result of improved performance.

“Across our open cut operations we are seeing much more consistent and better performance across production and overburden management and our guidance range has tightened accordingly,” he said.

“During the latter part of the December quarter there was a strong rebound in pricing and we are increasingly optimistic that underlying market dynamics are supportive of continued improvement in this area.”

Whitehaven has reduced its 2021 financial year guidance for managed coal production from 21-22.8 million tonnes to 21-22.5 million tonnes.

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