RICHMOND, Virginia — James River Coal Co. is idling four more mines in eastern Kentucky due to the weak coal market as its losses deepen.
The Richmond, Virginia-based company said Thursday that is furloughing 200 employees at its Buckeye complex in Knott and Perry counties with hopes of restarting operations in 2014 if market conditions improve.
The move is the latest in a series of production slowdowns and closures for James River, which mines thermal coal for power generation and metallurgical coal used to produce steel at operations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. In September, James River shut down production at several other mines in eastern Kentucky, laying off 525 full-time employees. It also idled several mines and reduced production at others in March.
The coal industry has struggled amid continued soft demand that has driven down prices, as many utilities turned to cheaper natural gas. Less construction overseas also has slowed the appetite for coal to make steel.
In the July-September quarter, coal shipments shrank 34 percent to 2.1 million tons. The price per ton fell 18 percent to $68.68.
Amid the weak market for coal, the company is slashing costs. Costs from running operations fell 43 percent to $174.2 million. Still, its gross loss per ton — the amount of sales left after costs— came to $11.54 per ton, compared with a loss of $4.82 per ton a year ago.
Overall, the company's loss widened to $25.5 million, or 73 cents per share, in the third quarter, from $20.6 million or 59 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue fell 48 percent to $150.2 million. Analysts polled by FactSet expected a loss of $1.19 per share on revenue of $169.6 million.
"Things are better. Things were terrible and I think they're better now," CEO Peter Socha said in a conference call with investors. "It doesn't mean they're good, it just means they're better."
Socha said coal markets have stabilized during the past several weeks, and while prices are still very low, they are finally moving in a better direction.
Its shares fell 12 percent, or 23 cents, to $1.68 per share in afternoon trading. The stock has dropped 41 percent in 2013.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum