Reuters reported on Thursday that customs at the Chinese port of Dalian has banned imported Australian coal since February, and will "cap overall coal imports from all sources to the end of 2019 at 12 million tonnes." It also said that major ports elsewhere in China prolonged clearing times for Australian coal to at least 40 days.
On Friday afternoon, the Australian dollar eked out slight gains to trade at $0.7101 at 2:55 p.m. HK/SIN, up from an earlier low of $0.7081. Local coal stocks mostly sold off. Shares of BHP fell 0.42 percent, Whitehaven retraced losses to gain 0.66 percent, Yancoal declined 2.8 percent and New Hope Group tumbled 3.55 percent.
Market speculation suggests Thursday's report may be a reflection of strains in the political and trade relationship between Australia and China in recent times, Ivan Colhoun, chief economist for markets at the National Australia Bank, said in a note. He added that the reported ban would affect a relatively small portion of the country's coal exports.
Last year, Australia banned Chinese telecommunication companies Huawei and ZTE from selling 5G technology equipment in the country, citing national security concerns. More recently, Australia rescinded the visa of a prominent Chinese businessman.