Global gas prices rally on hot summer, storage demand

SINGAPORE/SHANGHAI/LONDON (July 1): Global prices for natural gas are at multi-year highs, with high temperatures driving up demand for power generation in the northern hemisphere for air conditioning and as traders in some regions replenish stocks ahead of winter.

Prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) cargoes delivered in Asia rose above US$13 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) this week, highest for this time of the year since 2013, while Dutch wholesale and US natural gas prices also rose to multi-year highs.

“Post-lockdown demand recovery, together with a wide collection of exogenous hits to supply/trade flows worldwide, have lifted gas prices (year-to-date) in all key markets,” analysts from investment bank Liberum said in a note this week.

June shipments to Japan climbed 18% from the previous month to a three-month high of 6.01 million tonnes, Refinitiv Eikon shiptracking data showed, as utilities are ensuring adequate power supply in anticipation of a hot summer and ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games due to start on July 23.

China imported about 6.4 million tonnes of LNG in June, a drop from May but still about 26% higher than the same period last year, the data showed.

“We are seeing a lot of buying now (in China) in preparation for winter after last year,” a Singapore-based LNG trader said, adding that buyers are undeterred by high spot prices even though it means a loss for them, with Chinese domestic wholesale prices currently lower than spot LNG prices.

A China-based trader said robust buying from China is also being spurred by energy security reasons as they want to avoid a situation like last winter when spot prices rose to above $30 per mmBtu amid gas shortages.

The two traders declined to be named because they are not authorised to speak with media.

Buyers in Bangladesh and Pakistan have also paid above US$13 per mmBtu for cargoes to be delivered in July to meet summer air-conditioning demand, sources said.

Europe rallies

In a knock-on effect of high spot Asian LNG prices, benchmark European gas prices soared and the front-month price at the Dutch TTF hub hit a record high on Thursday morning at 36.25 euros per megawatt hour.

When Asian spot LNG prices climb to multi-year highs, it is more attractive for exporters to sell their cargoes there, resulting in a dearth of cargoes for Europe.

Record-low storage levels, summer maintenance outages and high carbon prices have also stoked buying.

“Europe is in a fight for liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports with Asia but right now it’s losing since TTF prices are not high enough,” said Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at Nordic corporate bank SEB.

“It is a global natural gas price rally, not a European one, and EU natural gas prices need to move higher and faster than Japanese LNG to attract more LNG imports,” he added.

Russian gas supply to Europe was cut 15%-20% compared with 2019 levels exacerbating an already low-inventory level situation in Europe, Liberum analysts said.

This week, Russia’s Gazprom did not book any interruptible transit capacity through Ukraine for July despite planned maintenance on alternative routes.

In the United States, natural gas futures hit 30-month highs this week on forecasts for higher-than-expected US air-conditioning and export demand over the next two weeks.

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