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Peabody earnings plunge, but better days predicted


Peabody Energy Corp. said Tuesday lower demand for coal from utilities and steelmakers drove its fourth-quarter earnings down 69 percent.

But the company, one of the world’s largest coal producers, said prices are improving for exported coal so far in 2010 because of strong demand from emerging markets.

Peabody, based in St. Louis, earned $92.2 million, or 34 cents per share in the fourth-quarter, compared with $293.1 million, or $1.09 per share, a year earlier.

Adjusted to exclude some oneitems, the company said it earned 43 cents per share in the most recent quarter.

Revenue fell to $1.55 billion from $1.89 billion a year ago.

Thomson Reuters says analysts, who usually exclude one-time items from their estimates, were expecting a profit of 29 cents per share on revenue of $1.47 billion.

Demand for coal used to make electricity has dropped as industrial production slowed, plants closed and more consumers conserved energy to save money. Demand for metallurgical coal, used in steelmaking, sank as construction activity fell off .

Peabody says demand for coal is improving in key markets including China and India, driving prices higher. Global steel production is expected to increase 9 percent in 2010, Peabody said, as the global economy recovers and construction ramps up.

Peabody expects higher prices for coal shipped overseas to benefi t results starting in the second quarter, as demand “in the Pacific markets is growing rapidly, with supplies increasingly tight.”

For 2010, Peabody is targeting total sales of 240 to 260 million tons versus 243.6 million tons in 2009.

Peabody produces enough coal to fuel 10 percent of all U.S. electricity and 2 percent of worldwide electricity.

Shares rose $1.22, or 2.7 percent, to $46.65 in morning trading.

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