Apr 1, 2019

The U.S. coal industry is choking

A coal-fired power plant in Castle Dale, Utah. Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

The brief selective default of Ohio-based coal company Murray Energy brought the total number of global corporate defaults to 27 this year, 19 of which have come from the U.S., with 4 in the metals and mining space, S&P Global said.

Why it matters: "The metals, mining, and steel sector is off to a rocky start this year with four defaults, already surpassing last year's full-year tally of three," Diane Vazza, head of S&P Global Fixed Income Research, said in a note last week. "Two of the four defaulters in the sector are U.S. coal producers."

The big picture: This is a long-running theme in the coal industry. In 2010, coal-fired power plants provided 45% of U.S. electricity generation, according to a report from The Week. In September, there were almost 200 fewer coal plants and they provided 30% of the country's electricity. Many more plants are set to be shuttered in the next 5 years.

  • The EIA said in December expects total U.S. coal consumption in 2018 to fall to the lowest level since 1979. U.S. coal consumption has been falling since 2007, mainly driven by declines in coal use in the electric power sector.
  • The U.S. expects dozens more coal plant closures this year, including the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal-fired plant in the western U.S., which provides power to Arizona, Nevada and California.

What they're saying: Paul Browning, CEO and president of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas, which makes technology for electricity, including coal, echoed what most other U.S. energy executives are saying.

  • "There is really nothing happening from a new coal power plant power point of view in the Americas," Browning told Axios' Amy Harder on the sidelines of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference last week in New York. "New coal-fired generation is really in decline and it's a sectoral decline, not cyclical. It's driven principally by climate change concerns and natural gas and renewables becoming more affordable."

Watch this space: The U.S. so far accounts for 70% of the world's defaults in 2019, followed by emerging markets with 15%. Bankruptcy is the leading cause of defaults, per S&P.

Editor's note: This piece was updated with new details from S&P, which now says its report shows Murray Electric was in default at the time but now has a forward-looking rating of CCC+. It also corrects the use of the word "corporate failures" with "defaults."

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 952,171 — Total deaths: 48,320 — Total recoveries: 202,541Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 216,722 — Total deaths: 5,137 — Total recoveries: 8,672Map.
  3. Stimulus updates: Social Security recipients won't need to file a tax return to receive their checks.
  4. Jobs update: 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week, a staggering number that eclipses the record set on March 26.
  5. Health updates: The Trump administration won't reopen enrollment for ACA marketplaces this year.
  6. National updates: The Grand Canyon closed after a resident tested positive for coronavirus.
  7. World update: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-entered self-quarantine after his health minister tested positive for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

The weirdest NBA draft ever

Table: Axios Visuals

The 2020 NBA draft was already shaping up to be the weirdest draft in years, and now that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the sports world, it could be the weirdest draft ever.

Why it matters: While most drafts have a clear hierarchy by the time April rolls around, this draft does not. There's no reliable No. 1 pick, almost every top-10 prospect has a glaring weakness and the global sports hiatus has shrouded the whole class in mystery.

Go deeperArrow35 mins ago - Sports

Jobless claims spike to another weekly record amid coronavirus crisis

Data: U.S. Labor Department via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week, a staggering number that eclipses the record set just days ago amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data released Thursday.

Why it matters: Efforts to contain the outbreak are continuing to create a jobs crisis, causing the sharpest spikes in unemployment filings in American history.