According to The Australian Financial Review, the coking coal industry is ready to make a "definite change" away from quarterly contract prices in favour of adopting something closer to the daily market price, according to BHP Billiton's chief commercial officer Arnoud Balhuizen.
Japanese steelmakers, who have traditionally preferred quarterly contract prices, paid much more for coal on contracts between November and March than they could have bought at market or "spot" prices, undermining their confidence in the contract system.
Then Cyclone Debbie disrupted coal supply in early April and delayed negotiations over the contract price for the three months to June 30, and the contract price for that period has still not been settled.
Nippon Steel stoked speculation about a change of pricing system last week when it said it was looking at ways to counter the volatile prices and would consider diversifying its supply to ensure it was less reliant on Australian coal.
Market intelligence firm IHS said Nippon Steel was considering a new formula that would price each quarter using an average of a basket of spot indexes over the previous three months, and there has also been speculation the company would diversify its coal purchases over a range of contracts terms, from one month to six months.
BHP has pushed iron ore and coal markets to abandon contracts in favour of spot markets, and Mr Balhuizen said the industry was "ready to make its definite change".
"We understand, probably triggered by the recent volatility in the market, that people are more and more open to not fix prices on the quarterly basis," he said.
"They should be following the trend we have been pushing for, I think it's a pricing mechanism that will provide liquidity, price transparency and will create much more efficiency on the value chain."
The Singapore Exchange has started offering coking coal futures trading, and it is expected that further derivatives will follow.
Mr Balhuizen said the start of futures trading was a good thing.
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