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SINGAPORE: China’s coal imports rose in November from the prior month as utilities replenished stockpiles to brace for the winter heating season, when tens of millions of homes rely on coal-fired systems for warmth and electricity.

The world’s top coal consumer imported 32.31 million tonnes of the fossil fuel last month, up from 29.18 million in October, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday.

From January to November, China imported 262.41 million tonnes of coal, down 10% from the 2021 period, the data showed. China government has been urging coal-fired power plants to build stockpiles to ensure stable heating and electricity supplies in winter.

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The average coal inventory at power plants in China is now sufficient for more than 20 days of demand, data from pricing agency Ocoal.com showed.

But November arrivals were still 7.8% lower than for the corresponding period last year, as sluggish power demand in China, due to stringent COVID curbs, cut the need for extra supplies from abroad.

Daily coal consumption at key utilities in coastal areas was around 1.86 million tonnes by the end of November, down from the year-earlier figure of 1.9 million, the China Coal Transportation and Distribution Association said.

Chinese utilities are still actively taking in cheap low-quality coal from Indonesia but showed less interest in medium-quality coal, typically with heating content of about 4,500 kilocalories, as price spreads between domestic and overseas cargoes narrowed.

Spot Chinese 4,500 kcal thermal coal was traded at 920 yuan ($131.75) a tonne last week, and the similar quality Indonesian coal was at $124.05 a tonne on a free-on-board basis - an estimated $137 a tonne on a delivery basis.

Analysts and traders expect China’s coal demand to pick up with the onset of colder weather and Beijing’s gradual easing of COVID controls.

But supplies from top coal supplier Indonesia might be constrained by harsh weather and its own domestic market obligations.

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