Minergy’s du Plessis said since coal prices surged, there have been more conversations over potential sources of cash, from equity investors to debt refinancing proposals to trade finance.
“There is an openness to discuss this because coal is now a buzzword, so the conversation is easier. Has anything materialised? No it hasn’t,” he said.
Bens Creek listed shares partly because of the lack of appetite from banks to support any expansion of coal mining, chief executive Wilson said.
The company is set to double production to about 1 million tonnes next year, though Wilson does not expect current high prices to boost coal output much globally, as the development of new mines and the infrastructure they need such as railways is unlikely given the uncertain long-term outlook for coal.
Some investors snapping up shares in coal company fund raisings and listings agree that long-term plans are becoming a thing of the past for miners, but they say the short-term returns are attractive.
“Historically, coal mining CEOs did not want to return cash to shareholders, they used it to expand output or buy competitors,” said Jonathan Barrett, chief investment officer at Luminus Management, which owns shares in US coal miner Arch Resources Inc.
“But in the last year or two they have realised that the best way for them to create value for shareholders is to return the cash as opposed to expanding, because it’s a much better and lower risk use of capital,” he said.
Barrett and his business partner Robert Felice launched the Iris TIME fund in October backed by wealthy families to focus on unfashionable sectors with attractive cash flows, such as coal.
Big dividends and share buyback programmes in the industry mean that in some instances you could make back your entire capital investment in about two years, Barrett said.
“Most of these guys are generating cash hand over fist and they are trying to reduce their reliance on banks, because they have seen how quickly banks are turning on the industry.”