Chapter 8  April 12th : Cheaper Spot LNG Prices Tempt Some Asian Buyers Amid Supply Gains

Cheaper spot prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) are luring price-sensitive buyers back in Asia, with China and India recording rising imports in March.

The spot price of LNG for delivery to north Asia was $12.50 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in the week to April 6, steady from the previous week, which was the lowest level since June 2021.

The price has dropped 67% from its northern winter peak of $38 per mmBtu, reached in mid-December and is also down 82.3% from its record high of $70.50 from August last year, hit when European demand for the super-chilled fuel surged during the energy crisis sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

China's imports of LNG are estimated by commodity analysts Kpler at 5.55 million tonnes in March, up from February's 4.95 million and also well above the 4.77 million from March last year.

China lost its status as the world's biggest importer of LNG back to Japan last year, largely because its utilities pulled back from the spot market as prices surged.

India was another LNG importer stung by the record high spot prices last year, but is returning to the market as prices retreat.

India's March imports are estimated at 1.84 million tonnes, up from February's 1.27 million, which was the lowest monthly total since January 2017, according to Kpler data.

India's March imports were the most since June 2022, and also exceeded the 1.77 million tonnes from March last year.

Other smaller Asian LNG importers, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Thailand also recorded higher arrivals in March from February.

What's worth noting is that Asia's overall imports of LNG were largely steady in March, coming in at 22.35 million tonnes, up slightly from February's 22.18 million, but down on a per day basis.

This is largely because developed country importers such as Japan typically see lower imports as the peak winter demand season ends, with March arrivals pegged at 5.58 million tonnes, down from 6.54 million in February.

South Korea, Asia's third-largest LNG buyer, saw March imports of 4.41 million tonnes, down from February's 5.13 million.

Europe Rising

At the same time, Europe's LNG imports appear to be heading higher, implying that utilities are also taking advantage of lower spot prices to maintain high natural gas inventories, which are vital to stave off the threat of a complete end to already vastly curtailed flows of Russian pipeline supplies.

Europe's March LNG imports were 11.49 million tonnes, up from February's 11.37 million, according to Kpler.

More importantly, Kpler is estimating a further rise in April, with 11.87 million tonnes assessed as arriving this month.

The question for the market is whether the signs of stronger demand in Europe and among some buyers in Asia will be enough to spark a renewed rally in spot prices.

And if spot prices do head higher, how quickly will that translate to lower demand from price-sensitive buyers in Asia such as India and Pakistan.

It's also worth noting that LNG supply has been ticking higher, with the global total of exports reaching 36.83 million tonnes in March, which is the highest monthly total in Kpler records going back to January 2009.

The big three LNG exporters, the United States, Australia and Qatar saw higher shipments in March.

U.S. LNG exports were 7.79 million tonnes in March, a record high, while Australia also reached an all-time peak, coming in at 7.24 million.

Qatar's exports were 6.77 million tonnes, up from February's 6.36 million.

Source: Reuters

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