China is at it once again. The fast-growing emerging market is rapidly ramping up demand and production of coal and steel, which threatens to send worldwide prices and exchange traded funds (ETFs) higher.

The price of thermal coal recently topped the psychological $100 barrier for the first time in more than a year, as heavy snow and cold weather settle on China, reports Tony Daltorio for Investment U. The storm threw a wrench in mining activity and caused panic buying and shortages. [Why coal may have a good 2010 performance.]

China’s shift from coal exporter to importer quietly began months ago as the country cracked down on illegal mining activity, meaning hundreds of mines were closed. As a result, China had to start buying coal from around the world, sending imports up near 500% in November 2009. China already has the world’s largest coal reserves. If they still need more, big plans must be in the works.

Robert Guy Matthews for The Wall Street Journal reports that China may also dominate the steel industry this year by increasing production by nearly 10%. The output probably won’t surpass demand, pushing prices higher for steel and its raw materials, which includes coal. [Steel and coal ETFs are set to rise in 2010.]