Australian Floods Impact Global Supply Chains

Mining and Steel – What’s the immediate impact and long term outlook?

The impact of the devastating floods in Queensland will be felt through global supply chains for many months to come. Almost 70% of global steel production is dependent on metallurgical or coking coal. Australia produces two-thirds of global exports of coking coal, of which Queensland accounts for 35%.

Many major mining companies in Queensland have invoked force majeure clauses, which have temporarily released them from contract obligations. This has forced Asian steel-makers who buy the bulk of Australia's coal, to find alternative sources including Russia, China, United States and Canada. These sources and inventories will keep steel plants running normally over the next few weeks, but the real impact on the steel industry will not be known until safety stocks are exhausted.

Lost Sales, Multiple Supply Chain Disruptions

As of 16th January 2011, the Queensland Resources Council estimates that the region’s coal sector has lost sales worth A$2.3 billion since the beginning of December. It is predicted that the disruption could remove over 5 percent of coking coal from world markets this year and inflate prices by a third or more.

About 40 mines in Queensland have been significantly affected by the floods. Many will take weeks to pump out the flood water and rebuilding critical infrastructure may take longer. Major coal rail lines in the Bowen Basin have been submerged or washed away. The port of Gladstone with a daily export capacity rate of 200,000 tonnes stopped receiving coal shipments on 31st December and only now is planning to resume shipments at 50% of capacity (20th Jan). It is likely to be the end of March before it is back up to full capacity.

Recovery from Previous Disasters

The mining industry has shown great resilience in the recent past: ‘In 2008, flooding kept some mines out of action for as much as six months, but others were able to start producing within four to six weeks’, said Andrew Harrington, an analyst at Patersons Securities in Sydney. Mines then increased their outputs to end the year about 10 percent below their original targets.

Insurers ‘Steeling’ Themselves for Major Losses

Yesterday, the 'Insurance Day' in London reported on insurers preparing for a surge of business interruption claims from the mining sector. This disaster looks set to exceed the Australian floods of 2008, which racked up a total of $1.5b in claims.