THE beleaguered thermal coal price will begin to increase this year, however poor Chinese demand will continue to put pressure on the market, Whitehaven Coal has predicted.

In its December quarterly report, the Australian miner revealed it had sold a record 6 million tonnes of coal in the second half of 2014, most of which was thermal. Whitehaven achieved an average sale price for its export thermal coal of US$66.07 per tonne in the quarter, down from US$82.28/t in the December 2013 quarter.

The benchmark Newcastle thermal coal index dropped 6.7 per cent during the December quarter.

However, Whitehaven predicted the thermal coal price would record a “stable to gradual” increase in 2015, despite leading forecasters tipping a further drop in coming months.

“The sharp fall in the oil price has materially impacted global energy markets…thermal coal’s position as the lowest cost source of energy for power generators has limited the negative impact on pricing in recent months,” the report stated.

“There is growing evidence of reduced export growth from Indonesia offsetting increased Australian exports.”

The report noted that while challenging markets made forecasting difficult, it expected prices would remain under pressure due to Chinese demand.

“Whitehaven does not expect to sell any of its high quality coals to China in the next year,” it stated.

In January, Citibank lowered its 2015 forecast for thermal coal from an average of US$67/t to just US$55/t. Whitehaven began sales from its controversial Maules Creek coal mine last month.