Competitors to safe LNG cargoes for subsequent winter may intensify because the yr progresses, however to what extent Europe and Asia face off relies upon closely on quite a lot of elements, together with plant outages, provide, demand, and naturally, the climate.
The worldwide liquified pure fuel market has blended forecasts on what course prime Asian LNG patrons, China, Japan, and South Korea may take this winter. If all three, or solely China returns to the market as a robust purchaser, Europe may once more compete with Asia for the super-chilled gasoline.
“The Russia-Ukraine disaster has essentially modified the construction of LNG,” stated Sam Reynolds, an power finance analyst on the Institute for Vitality Economics and Monetary Evaluation (IEEFA). “Europe is not a balancing purchaser that merely absorbs extra cargoes from Asia.”
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Winter climate in Northeast Asia and Chinese language shopping for exercise stay key unknowns which are protecting LNG markets uneasy, in response to IEEFA, and with” little new LNG provide capability anticipated on-line this yr, markets are more likely to stay on their toes.”
Regardless of the present lull in spring demand, IEEFA expects competitors for cargoes between Europe and Asia to choose up later this yr.
“Whereas there could also be regional variations in storage ranges and seasonal demand, Europe and Asia stay in direct competitors for restricted international LNG provides, and this dynamic is more likely to proceed unfolding via the remainder of the yr within the type of larger costs and elevated volatility,” Reynolds instructed NGI.
The European Union (EU) and the UK imported 121 million tons (Mt) of LNG in 2022, in response to Kpler, a virtually 60% improve in comparison with 2021 as Europe rushed to fill the provision hole left by diminished pipeline deliveries from Russia. A profit for Europe all through 2022 was China’s 20% year-over-year discount in LNG purchases. Kpler knowledge reveals China’s LNG imports fell to 64 Mt in 2022, down from 80 Mt the prior yr.
Asian patrons will possible must refill storage shares heading into summer time, which can assist present a flooring for spot costs, Reynolds stated.
The Japan-Korea Marker (JKM), the spot benchmark for North Asia, has dropped to its lowest stage in almost two years due to milder climate and ample provides. Present value ranges are a profit for cost-sensitive patrons like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Thailand. If the top-three Asian patrons return to the market and tip off a bidding warfare with Europe for winter provides, smaller gamers may once more be priced out of the market.
To this point this yr, Japan, Korea and China have had a restricted presence within the spot market. Like Europe, a lot of Asia has had a heat winter and inventories are full, stated Poten & Companions’ Jason Feer, international head of enterprise intelligence.
“The distinction between Europe and Asia, is that Asia makes provisions for winter by having a gradual provide of time period LNG coming into the area in the course of the colder months, as Europe has beforehand relied on Russian pipeline fuel to fill the gaps if LNG cargoes bought to Asia at larger costs,” Feer stated.
A variety of Japanese and Chinese language gamers have bought surplus cargoes, Feer instructed NGI. “The issue is that Asia-Pacific patrons all have time period contracts to offer a gradual stream of cargoes, so if storage is full, they both need to defer cargoes or divert them some place else,” he added. “So that is all taking place as wanted.”
Europe has not had the identical success as Asia locking in provide with long-term LNG contracts, which may turn into an costly problem if there’s stiff competitors for cargoes this winter.
However the 2023-2024 winter season might be completely different, Feer stated. “A chilly winter that drains inventories may see Asia-Pacific and European LNG importers competing for cargoes this winter and subsequent if inventories turn into a priority.”
Some demand restoration is anticipated in 4Q2023, Rystad Vitality analyst Masanori Odaka instructed NGI, however the extent of fourth quarter necessities will largely depend upon how sizzling it’s this summer time in these nations.”
The Large Thriller
“China is the massive thriller,” Feer stated. “China took quite a bit much less LNG final yr due to the smooth financial system, larger home fuel manufacturing and better pipeline imports.”
Poten expects China to maximise home output and pipeline imports. The shipbroker is asking for a rise of about 6 Mt in China this yr in comparison with 2022, Feer stated, including “that may nonetheless go away Chinese language demand beneath 2021, which was abnormally excessive.”
Based on an IEEFA forecast, LNG demand in China may dampen sooner or later with the surge in home fuel manufacturing and Russian pipeline imports. “A surge in non-LNG provide in China is already taking place,” Reynolds stated.
Chinese language home pure fuel manufacturing rose to twenty.5 billion cubic meters (Bcm) in March, in response to IEEFA, setting a single month-to-month report. Home manufacturing has risen at a fast fee of roughly 10% yearly since 2018 and seven.6% since 2011. Many count on related charges of home manufacturing will increase going ahead.
Though the Energy of Siberia (POS) 2 pipeline negotiations are ongoing, Reynolds stated, deliveries on the prevailing POS pipeline that hyperlinks China and Russia are anticipated to succeed in 22 Bcm on this yr.
“In December 2022, Russia began up manufacturing from the Kovykta fuel area, which is the biggest area in jap Russia and feeds into the prevailing POS pipeline,” Reynolds stated. “China has stated it’s going to improve pipeline fuel imports from Russia by 47% in 2023 because of this.”
China, among the many world’s largest LNG importers, noticed re-exports of LNG to different nations attain a report within the first quarter of this yr, in response to IEEFA, indicating that home LNG demand stays weak.
“Pipeline imports and domestically produced fuel are each properly beneath LNG costs, regardless of the present dip in JKM,” Reynolds stated.
“This implies that different fuel sources will proceed to squeeze the nation’s demand for LNG. Whereas China’s LNG imports might rise from the very low base set in 2022, demand might not return to 2021 ranges for a number of years.”
Vitality consultancy Wooden Mackenzie agrees. In its China base-case state of affairs, with rising home fuel manufacturing up 14 Bcm and Russian pipeline imports up 7 Bcm, the consultancy forecasts China’s LNG imports at 71 Mt (97 Bcm) this yr, solely 7.4 Mt (10 Bcm) greater than in 2022, and nonetheless far decrease than the 80 Mt imported in 2021.
Regardless of steep declines this yr, Rystad Vitality stated China’s incremental spot procurement stays muted given the place JKM is buying and selling.
“At present, LNG spot value ahead curve reveals above $12.00 per million British thermal models for the remainder of 2023 and 2024,” Odaka stated, “which is larger than the breakeven value for his or her downstream market.”
In comparison with the final 5 years, pure fuel storage inventories in Japan and South Korea are excessive. Because of this, it’s unlikely both nation will import important volumes of spot LNG within the first half of this yr, Odaka stated.
“In actual fact, some Japanese utilities have a barely lengthy place for LNG for the April 2023-March 2024 interval for the primary time since 2011, because of volumes imported from time period contracts and persisting excessive stock popping out of the 2022-2023 winter.”
This yr alone, Japan may convey 4,400 MW of present nuclear capability again into service, in response to IEEFA forecasts. IEEFA estimates that would cut back LNG demand from the ability sector by as much as 6 Mt yearly, or the equal of rouhgly 8% of Japan’s 2022 LNG imports.
“Japan could have 2-3 GW extra nuclear capability in 2023 in comparison with 2022 as a result of return of chosen nuclear energy crops in western Japan,” Odaka added. A further 1 GW of accessible nuclear energy capability may substitute roughly 15-19 LNG cargoes yearly, he stated.
In South Korea, public sentiment additionally seems to be transferring towards better assist for nuclear energy, which may additionally have an effect on demand, though that is more than likely a longer-term dynamic. “We don’t count on to see a lot change in South Korea within the subsequent yr or two,” Feer stated.
“Total, even when demand does decide up in Japan, China, and South Korea, and the three nations find yourself importing related ranges in comparison with 2020 or 2021, there’s extra LNG provide accessible now, except there’s a main unplanned outage that occurs this yr such because the Freeport explosion in 2022,” Odaka stated.
For now, Asia-Pacific patrons aren’t anticipated to enter the market in a giant manner this spring and summer time.
“However the image may change pretty rapidly if we get an early, chilly winter and European and Asian inventories begin to fall rapidly and/or unexpectedly,” Feer stated. “I might say the massive variable is the climate. Europe gained that guess final winter. I assume we’ll see if their luck holds subsequent winter.”