LNG boom over as China looks to sell out of long-term deals
State-controlled energy giant Sinopec wants to sell some long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) import deals as a slowing mainland economy makes them unprofitable, sources say, signalling the end of a five-year boom fuelled by rising Chinese demand.
Asia’s thirst for energy has helped drive a “dash for gas” in producer countries from Australia to Canada, with LNG emerging as the fastest growing fuel source since the beginning of the century on the back of soaring Chinese imports.
But just as long-planned projects start to come on stream, the mainland economy is stuttering, which is likely to crimp demand and pull down domestic gas prices to levels that make imports unprofitable.
“We talk about China choking on LNG. There’s just too much coming onto the market,” said Gavin Thompson, head of Asia gas research at Wood Mackenzie.
Analysts say falling crude prices, which have dropped around 40 per cent since June, are another factor weighing on Chinese gas prices.
“Based on the recent fall in oil prices … there is an increased risk that there could be a near-term cut in natural gas price (in China) for the first time,” Bernstein Research said on Tuesday, adding that at lower levels “LNG and pipeline imports make little sense for producers”.
And even if retail prices do not fall, imports may not be needed as the high gas price at home caps demand.
In response, China is trying to find buyers for contracted LNG on the international market, which is already oversupplied due to slowing demand and rising output that have seen Asian LNG prices halve this year, with analysts expecting another 30 per cent fall by next year.
“There is at least one SPA (sales and purchase agreement) being negotiated with a Chinese buyer that has a lot of destination flexibility, including to terminals outside of China,” said one source involved in LNG shipments from Australia to China.
Sinopec is planning to offload LNG from new export plants in Australia and potentially Papua New Guinea to BP, advisory and trading sources said, amid growing unease over the scale of an unprecedented expansion that has seen the construction of 11 LNG import terminals since 2006 and includes plans for 25 more projects.