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With all the uncertainty surrounding the price of oil along with talk about natural gas and renewable energy are investors overlooking coal?

Coal, after all, is still a major source of power all over the world. In Asia it’s the dominant source of energy.


Growth In Asia

Vietnam, China, India, and Indonesia are all building new coal plants. A great deal of press coverage concentrates on economic slowdown in China. China is big, but it’s not all there is.

Some analysts believe the next big growth story will come out of India and other parts of Asia. It’s worth noting that most of the world’s population lives in Asia. There’s not much debate that most of the planet’s future economic growth will occur there.

U.S. Coal May Not Be The Answer

There was a time Western coal producers saw export to Asia as a major opportunity. A global glut of coal, environmental activism and cheaper product from Australia and Indonesia have all conspired to cut U.S. producers out of the mix.

Arch Coal Inc., the nation’s second-largest coal producer, is an example of the problem. Arch sold its 38% stake in Longview-Wash.-based Millennium Bulk Terminals in June. With the demand for U.S. coal down, the terminals are simply not needed at this time.

China’s Power Glut

One major issue affecting coal production is the fact China’s coal-fired plants are being underutilized, even while the country continues to build new ones. A Greenpeace East Asia study estimated China could waste up to $210 billion (U.S.) in capital spending on projects the country doesn’t need.

It all revolves around the use of electricity in China, which is dropping. Most of the drop comes from heavy industry which used 1.9% less power last year than the year before.


Options For Investors

All things considered, analysts and experts still see certain coal and coal-related stocks as valuable long-term investments. The long-term view is that the use of coal isn’t going away entirely and patient investors can still see market-beating gains.

Low production costs, competitive advantage and well supported payouts put Alliance Resource Partners L. P. (NASDAQ:ARLPC) and Alliance Holdings GP LP (:AHGPN/A) at the top of some analyst lists for best coal stocks to own.

Others that have received favorable mention include Consol Energy Inc. (NYSE:CNXA) and Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE:CLDC) the country’s No. 3 coal producer. Of course there’s always exposure through and ETF such as Market Vectors Coal (KOL)

On the coal-related side of the industry, one company, Joy Global Inc. (:JOYN/A), a little known equipment manufacturer similar to, but smaller than Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CATB) is touted for its significant exposure to the coal market. In addition, JOY makes specialized equipment not readily available from the competition.

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