Arch Coal’s Bad Results Could Get Worse (ACI, BTU, ANR, PCX, JRCC, CLD)

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No one was expecting much from Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI) when it reported first-quarter results this morning. And that’s just what investors got. The company reported an adjusted EPS loss of -$0.04, way below the consensus estimate of $0.16. Revenue reached $1 billion, again below the consensus estimate of $1.12 billion.

The company’s results are far worse than those of either Peabody Energy Co. (NYSE: BTU) or Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE: CLD), both of which reported a profit. Peabody’s profit came from overseas operations and Cloud Peak’s from shipping its Powder River Basin coal to China. Alpha Natural Resources Incl. (NYSE: ANR) is expected to post an EPS loss of -$0.06 for the first quarter, Patriot Coal Corp. (NYSE: PCX) is forecast to post an EPS loss of -$0.40, and James River Coal Co. (NASDAQ: JRCC) is looking at a loss of -$0.66. Arch, comparatively speaking, didn’t fare too badly.

The company also revised its forecast, cutting full-year sales volume to a range of 136-142.5 million tons, about 10% below 2011 sales at best. Costs are rising due at least partly to lowered volumes. Rising natural gas prices, up from around $2/thousand cubic feet to around $2.30, will help coal miners a little bit, provided that exports grow as predicted and the US has a hot summer.

For the most part coal stocks are rising this morning. Even Arch is up nearly 1% after lowering its quarterly dividend from $0.11 to $0.03. Patriot Coal is up nearly 5% and Cloud Peak is up 3%. What investors are seeing is a bottom surely. But coal mines are deep, dark places that hide as much as they reveal.

Paul Ausick