COALMINERS top the list of Australian companies that could suffer if the Gillard government goes ahead with changes to a diesel fuel rebate in today's budget.
Analysts at Citigroup Global Markets believe ASX-listed companies Whitehaven Coal and New Hope Coal will be among the hardest hit, should the changes be made.
Speculation has been rife that the government will axe or reduce the 38¢-a-litre rebate, which is already scheduled to fall to 32¢ as part of the carbon tax package.
Miners use diesel for transport on private roads and for power generation in isolated regions. Axing the rebate in full could be worth up to $2 billion to the government.
Citi said the impact would vary according to mine size and other factors, but profitability of those coalminers could be affected by 10 to 20 per cent if the rebate was axed.
Iron ore miners Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron were also named among the companies that would be badly affected, along with copper and gold producer OZ Minerals.
Fortescue and OZ have publicly estimated the annual impact at $150 million and $20 million respectively, while Atlas is vulnerable because it transports its ore to port via truck rather than rail.
Despite weeks of concern, some in the resource sector were confident yesterday that the budget might pass without any change in the rebate.
If the rebate is left unchanged, the sector may have South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill to thank. He reportedly lobbied Canberra not to make changes that could damage the investment case for BHP Billiton's proposed expansion of Olympic Dam.
The Olympic Dam expansion looms as a crucial factor in South Australia's economy for decades to come, and Mr Weatherill did not deny suggestions he had written to federal Treasury last week to oppose changes to the rebate.