THE OPINION: James Rollyson said that after a tough 2012, he was originally optimistic about coal company prospects in 2013, as natural gas companies slowed their production growth and natural gas prices began to rise.
But while natural gas prices did rise a bit, the number of heating days in in November and December ran about 13 percent below normal and 2 percent below last year's mild winter. In addition the weather in many parts of the country is expected to remain mild, at least for the near term, further reducing heating demand, Rollyson said.
Natural gas futures prices have fallen from about $4 per 1,000 cubic feet in November to $3.27 on Monday, a drop of more than 18 percent.
Rollyson said that while natural gas prices, and demand for coal, should still be up from last year's levels, they won't be as high as previously expected and will probably delay a recovery in U.S. coal prices.
THE SHARES: In afternoon trading, Cloud Peak shares fell 33 cents to $19.13; James River lost 12 cents, or 3.3 percent, to $3.48; and Consol dropped 60 cents to $31.83.