Coal prices are surging: Should you buy Whitehaven Coal Ltd shares?

If you had asked me at the start of the year to predict the best-performing share on the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX: XJO) in 2016, the last share I would have picked would have been coal miner Whitehaven Coal Ltd (ASX: WHC).

But thanks to surging coal prices Whitehaven Coal’s shares have risen an incredible 362% so far this year.

Incredibly this run just shows no signs of slowing. According to a report in the Australian Financial Review the spot price for Australian coking coal rose over 7% overnight, with top quality produce fetching $US289.30 per tonne.

Prices have risen this year on the back of supply shortages brought about by China’s decision to place a limit on the number of days that its coal mines have been able to operate.

At present China’s coal mines are only able to operate the equivalent of 276 days a year, down from 330 days previously. This move was taken in order to remove excess capacity from the industry and to tackle the supply glut. This has lead to a surge in imports.

Bad weather and interruptions here in Australia have also played a role in sending prices higher, much to the delight of Whitehaven Coal, BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP), and Yancoal Australia Ltd (ASX: YAL) investors.

As you might expect the shares of fellow coal miner Yancoal are also a big winner this year. Its shares have gained 300% year to date.

The question is how long can this last?

Due to the high prices mining giant Glencore recently announced that it will reopen its Integra underground coking coal mine in the Hunter Valley. I don’t expect this will be the only mine reopening either, which could see increased supply hit the market in the next few months.

This could put pressure on prices, especially if Chinese steel production drops off. For now though, coal prices look set to continue their meteoric rise. But they won’t stay there forever, so it might be worth taking profits soon and reinvesting elsewhere in my opinion.

Finally, if you do take your profits then reinvesting in these growth shares could be a great next move if you ask me.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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