UPDATE 2-Alpha Natural expects recovery in thermal coal demand
* Fourth quarter adj loss $0.52/share vs est. $0.62
* Raises upper end of thermal coal shipment forecast
* Says lower inventory, higher natural gas prices to help demand
* Shares rise as much as 6 pct
Feb 12 (Reuters) - U.S. coal miner Alpha Natural Resources reported a smaller-than-expected quarterly loss as cost-cutting efforts paid off and forecast an improvement in demand for thermal coal used to generate electricity.
Alpha Natural shares rose as much as 6 percent in early morning trading on the first signs of a recovery following a year in which weak prices kept most U.S. miners in the red.
The company joined rival Arch Coal Inc in saying it expected demand for thermal coal to pick up due an increase in demand for power after the severe winter weather in the United States, coupled with a fall in inventory levels at utilities and the recent rise in natural gas prices.
"Overall, the outlook for thermal coal markets is more constructive compared with a few months ago ... (while) metallurgical markets continue to be very challenging," the company said on Wednesday.
Alpha Natural said it would sell low-grade metallurgical coal in the thermal coal markets, whose prices were above those of metallurgical, or steelmaking, coal. Continuación...