The dynamics of the LNG market are changing fast.There is more and more spot and short term trading, new players in theform of trading houses are coming to the market, new price benchmarks are beingintroduced and new financial instruments like futures and swaps becomeavailable for managing the price risks.
The current market is in a state of oversupply, asthere is a rising supply coming onto world markets from new exportingfacilities mainly from the U.S. and Australia. As the demand in Asia,good for 70% of the global LNG demand, has failed to keep up with the risingsupply, LNG prices have sunk to a seven-year low in that geography.
The average spot price in Asia for LNG for delivery inMay dropped by 42.5% year-over-year to $4.241 per million British thermalunits, the lowest monthly average since July 2009, according to price reportingagency Platts.
The result of this cocktail of excess supply and lowmarket prices is that the main buyers from leading importing countries likeJapan and Korea move away from a single reliance on long term oil indexedcontracts to a much more flexible procurement portfolio also including shortterm and spot contracts. Already, sales of LNG on the spot market and viashort-term contracts lasting less than four years had risen to app. 30% oftrade in 2015 from 5.4% in 2000, and are likely to grow further. Pricereporting agencies claim that there are daily bids and offers for physical LNGcargoes.
This move away from long term contracts is bad newsfor the producers who have invested billions into LNG plants and now seethat today’s LNG prices are insufficient to guarantee a proper return on theirinvestments. Still the major producers have been reluctant to cut output forfear of losing their market share, even if that means selling their products ata discount. Companies also cannot afford to curtail production atfacilities now coming on stream that have taken years and billions of dollarsof investment to start up.
Buyers are understandably more cost conscious and expectingthe price of LNG to reflect more adequately what is going on in themarketplace. For instance the worlds’ biggest buyer, Japanese JERA, now plansto buy LNG using contracts of varying length, and move away from using oil as apricing reference.
LNG buyers should go for a mix of different types ofpricing formulas in order to cover the various possibilities for the evolutionof the gas price and the oil price.
The main pricing benchmark so far in Asia is theso-called “Japan Crude Cocktail” (JCC) that represents the average pricefor crude oil imports into Japan. The JCC index is used as a reference priceindex for long-term LNG contracts in Northeast Asia. As LNG prices declinedalong with crude oil prices in 2015, the JCC-indexed prices started to divergemarkedly from prices of physical LNG delivered into Japan.
The last few years more LNG spot contracts havestarted to be priced off spot indexes. An estimated 40% of the spot andshort-term contracts are currently priced off the Platts JKM index. Efforts areunderway to develop alternative benchmarks to complement the Platts JKM.Recently the SGX, the Singapore Exchange launched the SLInG index and in Japanthey have launched the RIM Index. Both countries done this to support theirgoal of becoming the regional or global LNG Trading Hub. These indices are alsobenchmarks for LNG futures contracts that could be used for a hedge of spot LNGcontracts. Although these financial contracts are hardly traded by theindustry so far.
The US Henry Hub index is likely to become animportant pricing benchmark for LNG term contracts in Asia, as it isincreasingly being used by the US LNG exporters for deliveries into Japan andSouth Korea. The Henry Hub index is an existing benchmark for the US naturalgas market and also the underlying benchmark for the highly liquid natural gasfutures contract traded on the NYMEX.
For the success of a futures contract the mainrequirements are a well-functioning underling cash market and enough potentialbuyers and sellers to create enough liquidity. Due to the fast growth of spotand short term trading based on one of the spot benchmarks, more and moremarket players are facing an exposure to LNG market prices and for the JCC tothe Brent oil prices that they would like to hedge away, if needed. Looking atthe players in the market there is a good diversity between those who have longand short term exposures to the LNG market. Among the players whohave physical positions that need to be hedged, the “Shorts” are typically theJapanese, South Korean and Taiwanese power and gas companies, and the “Longs”are typically project and infrastructure developers. Banks, trading houses likeGunvor, Vitol, Trafigura, Mercuria, etc. , financiers and LNG ship owners alsohave financial exposures to LNG prices.
The Brent and Henry Hub Natural gas futures arehighly liquid and could therefore be used as a solid hedging instrument. Forthe futures based on the recently launched Asian spot indices the liquidity isstill very poor, although it is still early days, so these should be approachedwith a lot of caution.
It is certainly recommendable to inform and educateyour people about the use of financial instruments as part of your riskmanagement strategy. It would be my pleasure to share my unique expertise withyou and your people.
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The UK has just designated the Persian Gulf as a level 3 risk for its ships – the highest level possible threat for British vessel traffic – as the confrontation between Iran with the US and its allies escalated. The strategically-important bit of water - and in particular the narrow Strait of Hormuz – is boiling over, and it seems as if full-blown military confrontation is inevitable.
The risk assessment comes as the British warship HMS Montrose had to escort the BP oil tanker British Heritage out of the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean from being blocked by Iranian vessels. The risk is particularly acute as Iran is spoiling for a fight after the Royal Marines seized the Iranian crude supertanker Grace-1 in Gibraltar on suspicions that it was violating sanctions by sending crude to war-torn Syria. Tensions over the Gibraltar seizure kept the British Heritage tanker in ‘safe’ Saudi Arabian waters for almost a week after making a U-turn from the Basrah oil terminal in Iraq on fears of Iranian reprisals, until the HMW Montrose came to its rescue. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps have warned of further ‘reciprocation’ even as it denied the British Heritage incident ever occurred.
This is just the latest in a series of events around Iran that is rattling the oil world. Since the waivers on exports of Iranian crude by the USA expired in early May, there were four sabotage attacks on oil tankers in the region and two additional attacks in June, all near the major bunkering hub of Fujairah. Increased US military presence resulted in Iran downing an American drone, which almost led to a full-blown conflict were it not for a last-minute U-turn by President Donald Trump. Reports suggest that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps have moved military equipment to its southern coast surrounding the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is 39km at its narrowest. Up to a third of all seaborne petroleum trade passes through this chokepoint and while Iran would most likely overrun by US-led forces eventually if war breaks out, it could cause a major amount of damage in a little amount of time.
The risk has already driven up oil prices. While a risk premium has already been applied to current oil prices, some analysts are suggesting that further major spikes in crude oil prices could be incoming if Iran manages to close the Strait of Hormuz for an extended period of time. While international crude oil stocks will buffer any short-term impediment, if the Strait is closed for more than two weeks, crude oil prices could jump above US$100/b. If the Strait is closed for an extended period of time – and if the world has run down on its spare crude capacity – then prices could jump as high as US$325/b, according to a study conducted by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre in Riyadh. This hasn’t happened yet, but the impact is already being felt beyond crude prices: insurance premiums for ships sailing to and fro the Persian Gulf rose tenfold in June, while the insurance-advice group Joint War Committee has designated the waters as a ‘Listed Area’, the highest risk classification on the scale. VLCC rates for trips in the Persian Gulf have also slipped, with traders cagey about sending ships into the potential conflict zone.
This will continue, as there is no end-game in sight for the Iranian issue. With the USA vague on what its eventual goals are and Iran in an aggressive mood at perceived injustice, the situation could explode in war or stay on steady heat for a longer while. Either way, this will have a major impact on the global crude markets. The boiling point has not been reached yet, but the waters of the Strait of Hormuz are certainly simmering.
The Strait of Hormuz:
Headline crude prices for the week beginning 8 July 2019 – Brent: US$64/b; WTI: US$57/b
Headlines of the week
Utility-scale battery storage units (units of one megawatt (MW) or greater power capacity) are a newer electric power resource, and their use has been growing in recent years. Operating utility-scale battery storage power capacity has more than quadrupled from the end of 2014 (214 MW) through March 2019 (899 MW). Assuming currently planned additions are completed and no current operating capacity is retired, utility-scale battery storage power capacity could exceed 2,500 MW by 2023.
EIA's Annual Electric Generator Report (Form EIA-860) collects data on the status of existing utility-scale battery storage units in the United States, along with proposed utility-scale battery storage projects scheduled for initial commercial operation within the next five years. The monthly version of this survey, the Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory (Form EIA-860M), collects the updated status of any projects scheduled to come online within the next 12 months.
Growth in utility-scale battery installations is the result of supportive state-level energy storage policies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 841 that directs power system operators to allow utility-scale battery systems to engage in their wholesale energy, capacity, and ancillary services markets. In addition, pairing utility-scale battery storage with intermittent renewable resources, such as wind and solar, has become increasingly competitive compared with traditional generation options.
The two largest operating utility-scale battery storage sites in the United States as of March 2019 provide 40 MW of power capacity each: the Golden Valley Electric Association’s battery energy storage system in Alaska and the Vista Energy storage system in California. In the United States, 16 operating battery storage sites have an installed power capacity of 20 MW or greater. Of the 899 MW of installed operating battery storage reported by states as of March 2019, California, Illinois, and Texas account for a little less than half of that storage capacity.
In the first quarter of 2019, 60 MW of utility-scale battery storage power capacity came online, and an additional 108 MW of installed capacity will likely become operational by the end of the year. Of these planned 2019 installations, the largest is the Top Gun Energy Storage facility in California with 30 MW of installed capacity.
As of March 2019, the total utility-scale battery storage power capacity planned to come online through 2023 is 1,623 MW. If these planned facilities come online as scheduled, total U.S. utility-scale battery storage power capacity would nearly triple by the end of 2023. Additional capacity beyond what has already been reported may also be added as future operational dates approach.
Of all planned battery storage projects reported on Form EIA-860M, the largest two sites account for 725 MW and are planned to start commercial operation in 2021. The largest of these planned sites is the Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Florida. With a capacity of 409 MW, this project will be the largest solar-powered battery system in the world and will store energy from a nearby Florida Power and Light solar plant in Manatee County.
The second-largest planned utility-scale battery storage facility is the Helix Ravenswood facility located in Queens, New York. The site is planned to be developed in three stages and will have a total capacity of 316 MW.