May 2020

Trend of Natural Gas and LNG Prices

Short-term trend

  • In parallel with the collapse of crude oil prices, gas prices in different regions in the world have been declining. As of 20 May 2020, the US Henry Hub Price (HH), Dutch Gas Price (TTF), UK Gas Price (NBP) and the Assessed Spot LNG Price for Northeast Asia (JKM) are at the lowest levels less than USD 2 per million Btu. It has become difficult for LNG from the United States to be delivered into Northwest Europe to make a profit.
  • JKM for delivery in the next month hovered in the lower of USD 2 per million Btu range after falling to its new record low of USD 1.825 on 28 April 2020. Afterwards, prices have recovered to above USD 2 in early May because some LNG cargoes from the United States have been cancelled, several LNG plants plan to conduct regular maintenance and LNG demand is expected to recover in some countries that have eased lockdown measures, but still in the historically low level. JKM is expected to rise with lockdown measures easing and economic activities recovering in some areas in Asian countries. The average spot LNG prices published by METI was USD 3.0 for April delivery (USD 2.5 lower than February 2020, not published in March).
  • While the Henry Hub price for delivery in next month went up by USD 0.31 in April 2020 to USD 1.95 at the end of the month. It has been below USD 2 since 20 January except for USD 2.13 on 2 May. Amid demand decline with spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, prices edged up during the latter half of April as associated gas production volumes from oil-oriented shale acreage are expected to decline with oil prices collapse. This made the Henry Hub price the most expensive among the major regional spot gas prices in the world as of the beginning of May. Meanwhile, the TTF price for delivery in the next month went down by USD 0.24 in April 2020 to USD 1.98 equivalent at the end of the month. The TTF price has been below USD 2 since late April, and on 21 May it fell to USD 1.23 equivalent, the lowest price in the past decade. The lockdowns implemented in Europe to stop the spread of COVID-19 have kept a stagnation in economy, leading to the very low natural gas prices.
  • Japan's average LNG import price of USD 9.29 in April 2020 was 2.96 times as high as JKM for delivery in April 2020 (assessed between mid-February 2020 and mid-March 2020) at USD 3.14. The gap was higher than 2.71 of March. The average landed prices of LNG to Japan from the United States, ASEAN and Russia in April were USD 9.21, USD 8.96 and USD 8.16 respectively to undercut the overall average of USD 9.29. Meanwhile, most of long-term contract prices to buy LNG in Japan link to oil index except for LNG from the United States, therefore, the collapse of international crude oil prices, especially after 9 March, is expected to affect long-term contract LNG prices. The average crude oil import price in Japan for April was USD 42 per barrel, down from the previous month. As the crude oil prices imported into Japan are generally reflected in LNG contract prices three months later, the lower LNG prices are expected from July. Meanwhile, Japan imported 5.132 million tonnes of LNG in April 2020, 8.8% less than one year ago, and the smallest for one month since 4.791 million tonnes in May 2010.

LNG and Spot Gas Prices, 2019-2020

Mid- to long-term trend

  • During the last 10 years, Japan's average LNG import price fell from the peak in USD 18s in 2012, largely due to the downward trend in crude oil prices, to which long-term contract LNG prices are pegged. Except in August 2019, when it rose to USD 10.13, the average price has since April 2019 largely stayed below USD 10.
  • JKM declined from around USD 10 for January 2019 delivery to the middle of USD 4 for July - October 2019 delivery. After JKM for delivery from November 2019 to January 2020 briefly stayed at around USD 6, JKM declined dramatically to below USD 2 in late April for June 2020 delivery. This is a historically remarkable decline to a historically low level. JKM, which in recent years moved in the range between European spot gas prices at the lower end and crude oil equivalent at the higher end, stayed near the lower end in 2019. In addition, since June 2019 the JKM has largely been at the historic lows.
  • Japan's average LNG import price has been more than 1.6 times higher than the average JKM for delivery in each month (assessed between one-and-half and half-a-month prior to delivery) since the second quarter of the year, and was more than two times higher than the JKM from July to October 2019 and March and April 2020, representing the largest relative gap between the two since 2011. This seems to be due to ongoing massive LNG supply capacity expansions mainly from the United States, weaker appetite for LNG in Asia, particularly Japan and Korea from the traditional LNG markets in Northeast Asia, and uncertainty of gas demand amid COVID-19 spread. Combined LNG imports by Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei during the first quarter of 2020 increased year-on-year by 3.9%, or 1.43 million tonnes, they were still smaller by 9%, or 3.66 million tonnes, than those during the same months in 2018 and remain weak.

LNG and Spot Gas Prices, 2010-2020

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(source)
Henry Hub price: NYMEX Futures and Options, CME Group
NBP price: ICE Futures Europe, Intercontinental Exchange
TTF price: ICE Futures Europe, Intercontinental Exchange
JKM: LNG Japan/Korea Marker© 2020 by S&P Global Platts, a division of S&P Global Inc.
METI spot price: Spot LNG Price Statistics, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Japan’s average LNG import price: Trade Statistics of Japan

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Trend of Natural Gas and LNG Inventories

Japan

  • Japan's LNG inventory as of the end of January 2020 stood at 4.47 million tonnes, a decrease by 1.5% from the preceding month and an increase by 7.2% from one year earlier. It was 0.81 million tonnes higher than the last five-year average and was the highest in January since the start of statistics in 2008. LNG consumption for city-gas stood at 3.27 million tonnes, increasing by 7.3% month-on-month in January 2020, and exceeded 3.00 million tonnes received by city-gas companies by 0.27 million tonnes. As a result, the LNG inventory for city-gas supply in the month was 2.05 million tonnes, 10.9% lower than December 2019 and 2.6% lower than January 2019. The LNG inventory for incumbent electric power utility companies in January 2020 was 2.42 million tonnes, increasing by 8.2% from December 2019 and 17.1% higher than January 2019, as gas-fired power generation output by incumbent electric power companies increased by 1.3% month-on-month in January 2020.
  • Domestic LNG inventories over the past decade have been on an increasing trend. Due to the restart of nuclear power plants and the increase in renewable energy, LNG imports and consumption decreased from the peak in FY2014, and LNG inventory temporarily decreased. But it started to increase again in FY2018 and have been at record levels since the start of statistics. Nuclear power plant restarts and a decrease in heating and cooling energy demand seems to be the main cause of the increase in the inventories. However, as imported LNG without destination clauses from the United States and other countries has been gradually increasing, Japan's energy companies may not be only stockpiling LNG voluntarily for the stability of gas supply but also gradually using LNG terminals in Japan as a cushion for their trading activities.
  • Japan's LNG inventory levels have been generally high relative to the country's LNG consumption levels, as the country is almost entirely dependent on imported LNG for its natural gas supply. In Europe and the United States, there are many underground gas storage facilities, LNG inventory levels are relatively low compared to Japan. Assuming that LNG cargoes heading to Japan are counted on, additional 1.5 million tonnes should be added to the inventory volumes.
  • More than 60% of LNG is used by electric power companies, who also have different sources of power production and use LNG more or less as backup sources to adjust gaps or surplus of their total power generation. In recent years, operational performances of the country's nuclear power reactors, as well as increasing power supply from renewable energy sources, have dramatically changed the operation of LNG inventories. This is the one of the main reasons why the total inventory levels at the end of November 2018 and 2019 reached almost 5 million tonnes.

Japan end of month LNG inventory, 2010-2020

Japan end of month LNG inventory, 2019-2020

(Source)
Compiled based on data from Gas Business and Thermal Power Generation Statistics, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.As the inventory data is available for the period only after January 2008, the five-year average is applicable only after January 2013.

United States

  • As of 15 May 2020, working gas in underground natural gas storage in the United States was 2,503 Bcf, a 17 % increase in one month, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Gas inventories were 42.8 % or 750 Bcf higher than those at the end of March 2019, and were 407 Bcf higher than the past five-years average of 2,096 Bcf, but were still in the range for the past 5 years.
  • According to the Short-Term Energy Outlook released by the EIA in early May 2020, the EIA forecasts that the working natural gas in storage will increase by 2.1 Tcf the refilling season from April and will reach a record level of 4.2 Tcf at the end of October 2020.
  • The maximum inventory of working gas in underground natural gas storage in the United States over the past 10 years has been around 4 Tcf. However, according to the EIA database, natural gas production increased by more than 20%, natural gas consumption increased by more than 14%, and natural gas exports increased by more than 45% between 2017 and 2019 in the country, changing gas supply and demand dynamics dramatically. In addition to the temperature trends in the winter heating period, various factors including domestic natural gas prices and LNG exports are expected to have more impacts on natural gas inventories.
  • Underground natural gas storage facilities in the country generally inject more gas in summer starting in April and send out more gas in winter starting in November. Those trends have been created by the need to use more gas in heating in winter and by commercial motivations to buy gas cheap in lower demand periods between April and October and sell at higher prices in winter peak demand periods. Those trends have in recent years, however, to some extent been moderated by increasing use of natural gas in power generation, particularly in summer peak periods, increasing LNG exports, and increasing gas exports by pipeline to Mexico, with the inventory peak declining in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, LNG storage volumes have increased as growth in domestic gas production has offset increasing consumption and exports.

U.S. Natural Gas Underground Storage, 2010-2020

U.S. Natural Gas Underground Storage(May 2019-May 2020)

(Source)
Compiled based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Europe

  • As of 20 May, 2020, the stored volume of natural gas in European underground storage facilities operated by the Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory (AGSI +) members (including European Union (EU) member companies and non-EU (Serbia and Ukraine) member companies) was 764 TWh. As the demand period for heating ended at the end of March and the gas injection period began in April,  the inventories were16.9 % higher than one month ago and 165 TWh or 27.5 % higher than one year earlier, and 321 TWh higher than the five-year average, and the highest in the history. The stored volume represented 69% on 20 May 2020 of the working capacity, still staying significantly higher than the past five-year range of 30% - 57% at the time of the year. During this past winter, the filled rate of storage capacity did not fall below 50%. So, the allowable amount of gas inventory is lower than usual, which may affect imports of natural gas and LNG in Europe during the next several months.
  • As deliveries of LNG cargoes into Europe have already slowed down, the number of LNG cargoes on the water has increased. As the inventory of natural gas in storage in Europe is likely to be full much earlier than normal in the summer of 2020, with spot gas prices in Europe hovering in the historically low levels, LNG imports in Europe is also expected to slow down further.
  • As the storage capacity of European natural gas in the last 10 years increased by approximately 80% from 600 TWh to 1,100 TWh, the maximum of gas inventory has been increasing accordingly. The maximum stored volume from 2016 to 2018 was about 1,000 TWh. However, in 2019, due to the rapid increase in natural gas imports and the warm winter in Europe, gas inventory reached a record high of 1,084 TWh. The total gas inventory at the end of March 2020 (the minimum in the year) was approximately 600 TWh, comparable to the gas inventories in November 2011 (the maximum in the year).
  • Those storage facilities generally inject more gas in summer starting in April and send out more gas in winter starting in November, with storage levels going up to 80% or more than 90% of the working capacity at the end of injection period. Storage levels go down to 20% - 30% at the end of the withdrawal period. However, in recent couple of years, fluctuations in stored volumes have increased partly because of extreme weather conditions as well as commercial motivations of shippers of those gas storage facilities. The extreme winter cold of early part of 2018 drove down the total storage level to 18% at the end of March that year. The flood of LNG volumes imported into the region starting from the latter half of 2018 has increased volumes in gas storage in summer and autumn 2019, to nearly full capacity. The occupancy rate continued being high even during the winter withdrawal season.

European Natural Gas Storage, 2010-2020

European Natural Gas Storage, May 2019 - May 2020

(Source)
Compiled based on data from Gas Infrastructure Europe, Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory (AGSI). As the inventory data is available for the period only after January 2011, the five-year average is applicable only after January 2016.

Latest Developments in Major Natural Gas and LNG Projects

Summary

  • Investment activities for future projects in the LNG liquefaction sector have been expected to slow down significantly affected by the COVID-19 and bearish energy prices. Furthermore, those projects on which final investment decisions (FID) had been made have been delayed either by preventative measures to contain the virus spread or some actual cases of infection. A project intends to finalise its construction schedules once the situation with COVID-19 has stabilised. Therefore, some delays from the previously intended project operation should be expected. In addition, as real disruptive effects caused by COVID-19 on LNG demand are expected to be felt from the second quarter of the year, and it is likely to lead to reduced utilisation rates of liquefaction trains and unusual forced outages of some facilities.

 

North America

  • Chiyoda, McDermott and Zachry announced that the commercial operation of Train 3 of the U.S. Freeport LNG project in Texas commenced on 1 May 2020.
  • Sempra Energy announced on 18 May 2020 that Cameron LNG had begun producing LNG from the third and final liquefaction train of its Phase 1 liquefaction-export project in Louisiana. Commercial operations for Train 3 under Cameron LNG's tolling agreements remain on track to begin in the third quarter of 2020.
  • FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) granted Elba Island LNG approval to introduce feed gas into Modular Unit 8. Six units are in service with two additional units starting commissioning activities, out of 10 units at the facility. A fire broke out on 11 May 2020 in a mixed refrigerant compressor of the facility's Unit 2, forcing it to shut down three Units (1 - 3).
  • NextDecade revealed on 18 May 2020 that a final investment decision (FID) for Rio Grande LNG is expected in 2021. While the EPC contracts' prices were valid until 22 April 2020, Bechtel has agreed to extend the price validity of the EPC contracts to 31 July 2020.
  • Liquefied Natural Gas Limited announced that it had entered into a binding sale transaction in respect of its interest in subsidiary entities that own and operate the Magnolia LNG Project to be sold to Global Energy Megatrend Limited.
  • Canada's Pieridae Energy announced on 5 May 2020 that it had negotiated extensions of the key deadlines under its 20-year agreement with Germany's Uniper. These include expected commercial deliveries of gas to Uniper to start between 31 August 2025 and 28 February 2026; and the extension to 30 June 2021 of the deadline to make a positive final investment decision (FID) for Pieridae's proposed Goldboro LNG facility. The 20-year agreement with Uniper is for the LNG produced at Goldboro Train 1 or 4.8 million tonnes per year. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) denied the application to transfer licences for Shell's Foothills Assets to Pieridae. The assets remain attractive as the anchor production for the LNG project.

 

Asia and Oceania

  • Japan's first LNG bunker vessel (LBV) was launched in the middle of May 2020 at the Sakaide Works of Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI). The LBV is scheduled to be delivered at the end of September 2020. The LBV will be based at JERA's Kawagoe Thermal Power Station and provide LNG bunkering service. In 2018, K Line, JERA, Toyota Tsusho, and NYK Line jointly established Central LNG Shipping Japan Corporation to operate the LBV.
  • According to China's NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission), during the first quarter of 2020 the country's natural gas consumption increased year-on-year by only 1.6% to 78.5 Bcm, while gas production grew by 7.9% to 47.8 Bcm.
  • PipeChina (National Petroleum and Natural Gas Pipeline Network Group) started construction of the Longkou Nanshan LNG terminal project on 16 May 2020. This is the first major new energy infrastructure project managed by the group after its establishment in December 2019. The terminal is expected to have capacity of 20 million tonnes per year.
  • According to January, February and March issues of Monthly Report On Natural Gas Production, Availability and Consumption by Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell (Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas) of India, the country's natural gas production decreased by 10.5% during the first quarter of 2020, while natural gas consumption and LNG import increased by 3.5% and 37%, respectively, during the same period, driven by increasing consumption of LNG in the fertiliser sector. 
  • Australia's Venice Energy revealed in late April that it expects to take a final investment decision (FID) on its Outer Harbour floating LNG import terminal project in Adelaide, South Australia by February 2021, to start up the terminal by the end of the year. Venice Energy is targeting throughput of around 80 PJ (1.47 million tonnes) of gas in the first year, which it expects could increase to 140 - 150 PJ (2.57 - 2.76 million tonnes) in subsequent years. The project will involve a floating storage regasification unit (FSRU), as well as the construction of a 500 MW gas-fired power plant in two stages. Venice Energy intends to secure government approvals for the power plant once it finalises its investment decision on the terminal and expects a start-up of the plant by 2024, at the latest. The company intends to operate the terminal under a tolling model.

 

Europe and Russia

  • Total in Spain acquired the Energías de Portugal's portfolio of 2.5 million B2C customers and two gas-fired combined cycle power plants, which represent an electricity generation capacity of nearly 850 megawatts. This transaction follows Total's entry into the country's solar market in February 2020 with the acquisition of a portfolio of almost 2 gigawatts of renewable power projects to be developed. Total will become the 4th largest supplier of gas and power in the country with residential market share of 12% and 6% respectively.
  • Yamal LNG announced in the middle of May 2020 the scheduled maintenance of the second and third LNG trains with consecutive shutdowns for 12 days each from 21 May to 15 June. In addition to regular maintenance works, Yamal LNG plans to modernize the absorbers at the mercury removal units, as well as implement a number of upgrades aimed at improving the efficiency of the LNG trains. The regular maintenance is carried out in accordance with the approved annual schedule and will not affect the planned LNG production volume for the year. Due to the successful implementation of a Risk Based Inspection (RBI) maintenance system at Yamal LNG, the scheduled maintenance of the first liquefaction train is postponed by one year from August 2020 to 2021. Yamal LNG is constructing a 17.4 million tonnes per year natural gas liquefaction plant comprised of three LNG trains of 5.5 million tonnes per year each and one LNG train of 0.9 million tonnes per year, utilizing the hydrocarbon resources of the South-Tambeyskoye field in the Russian Arctic.

 

Other regions

  • CEDIGAZ, the International Association for Natural Gas, released its "First Estimates 2020". Slower economic growth, Chinese policy changes and a mild winter caused global gas demand growth to slow from 5% in 2018 to 2.3% in 2019 in a context of oversupply, resulting in a growing LNG surplus and much lower prices. Switching from coal and oil to natural gas in the power and industry sectors was notably the case in the United States and Europe. Global natural gas consumption reached 3.948 Bcm in 2019. As in 2018, the United States and China were the two main growth centres, each accounting for about 30% of the global increase in 2019. In the European Union, demand was also strong, 2.4% up. 
  • Qatar Petroleum (QP) announced in late April that it had entered into an agreement to reserve LNG ship construction capacity to be utilized for QP's future LNG carrier fleet requirements, including those of its ongoing North Field expansion projects, with Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation Limited.
  • Nigeria LNG (NLNG) signed the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts for its Train 7 Project with the SCD JV Consortium of Saipem, Chiyoda and Daewoo in early May 2020. The project is expected to increase the capacity of NLNG's current six-train plant by 35% from 22 to 30 million tonnes per year. NLNG took the final investment decision (FID) in December 2019. Construction schedules will be finalised once the situation with COVID-19 has stabilised.
  • The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons (MMH) of Equatorial Guinea, in collaboration with Marathon Oil and EG LNG, awarded a contract for the development of a Gas Master Plan to Gas Strategies. The work is part of the development of the country's Gas Mega Hub, for which Definitive Agreements towards the monetization of the Alen unit were signed in April 2019. The offshore gas mega hub will be the first such venture offshore Africa and aims at pooling stranded gas across the Gulf of Guinea by maximizing existing infrastructure at Punta Europa. Key facilities there, such as EG LNG and Marathon's methanol plant, have traditionally been relying on gas feedstock from the Alba Field. Under the development, Punta Europa is set to become a gas processing centre for all stranded gas fields in the Gulf of Guinea and could open up economical avenues to monetize offshore gas in Cameroon and Nigeria as well.
  • Total revealed on 18 May 2020 that it had decided not to acquire former Anadarko's assets in Ghana. In August 2019, Total and Occidental Petroleum entered into an agreement in order for Total to acquire Anadarko's assets in Africa. Total and Occidental have since completed the sale and purchase of the Mozambique and South Africa assets.
  • The Board of Directors of the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) amended the agency's previously approved September 2019 direct loan supporting exports for the development and construction of an integrated LNG project in Mozambique. The latest amendment expands the scope of EXIM's financing of the project from exclusively the onshore portion of the LNG plant and related facilities to also allocate an estimated USD 1.8 billion of the estimated total of USD 4.7 billion to support the project's offshore production.

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