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Robert Trigaux

Tampa's Walter Energy embraces metallurigical coal as global economy slows

Walterbluecreekno5mineblakesimsbirminghamherald Wake up and good morning. Funny how things change so fast in this crazy economy. Here's Tampa's Walter Industries tossing out its old name last month as too vague and unfocused, and adopting the new name Walter Energy to redirect investors to its new hyper-focus on mining metallurgical coal used to make steel.

Then comes reports from coal country over in Alabama that the global economy does not want so much specialty coal because global construction is down because of the recession. States the headline on Sunday's Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News story: As steelmakers cut production, and coal stockpiles increase, Alabama miners are nervous about the future.

The Tuscaloosa story quotes Walter's coal unit, still called Jim Walter Resources, as operating two of the country’s deepest underground coal mines near Brookwood, Ala. But employment there remains steady even though the mines are down to a five-day workweek, according to company and union officials. (Photo by Blake Sims of the Birmingham Post Heraldshows the main elevator shaft at one of Walter's Brookwood mines.) Walter Energy's Web site says it still has full time jobs to fill in Brookwood. And Walter's stock price (ticker: WLT) in recent months has been slowly creeping up.

Known as Blue Creek coal, the coal mined by Walter has very low sulfur content with a high heat value, making it ideal for coking — a process that removes coal’s impurities so it can be used in steelmaking. Most of Jim Walter’s coal is exported, company spokesman Dennis Hall told the Tuscaloosa paper. "The global steel market is down and that has affected us."

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:24am]


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