The unique conundrum of natural gas in Australia has just heated up. The country’s government has unveiled a plan that will effectively allow it to cap and restrict exports of Australian LNG to meet domestic shortages of natural gas. Predictably, Australian LNG producers – who have invested billions to push Australia to become the second-largest LNG exporter in the world – reacted negatively, while domestic consumer and manufacturer groups welcomed it.
Why is this happening?
Australia produces natural gas on both coasts. On the west coast, where the population is sparse and the reserves are vast, the LNG boom there has been geared towards export to Asia. Natural gas produced in the Northern Territory follows a similar pattern, exported as LNG through the Darwin plant. However, in the southeast, natural gas has two outlets – export as LNG through three of the east coast plants, or domestic demand to power a region that accounts for more than three quarters of Australia’s population, industry and manufacturing.
A combination of factors – higher-than-expected costs, global LNG glut and depressed prices – have led the gas producers in the east to choose to sell their gas as LNG to eke out better profits. This led to the situation of the Gladstone LNG plant diverting third-party gas to be exported as LNG, an unusual occurrence that came about mostly due to poor logistics on Gladstone’s part. (The two other east coast LNG plants – Shell’s Queensland Curtis and ConocoPhillips’ Australia Pacific LNG – remain net gas suppliers to the Australian market). But it comes at a time when Australia’s domestic gas prices are soaring, translating into higher power prices for consumers and manufacturers, in what the Australian competition regulator is calling a ‘disaster.’
"Suffering from high prices, Australians are wondering aloud why the country is sending so much of its gas overseas when its own citizens and businesses are lacking"
It is a political hot potato that has certainly caught the attention of the federal government. Malcolm Turnbull’s plan to tackle the situation is this: empowering the government to restrict exports of LNG during times of domestic shortage. Acting on advice on the market operator and regulator, the government will be able to demand unilateral control of LNG volumes, coercing firms to send that gas domestically instead of overseas, possibly in defiance of existing LNG trade contracts. The plan will come in effect July 1, and producers are already moving to lobby against it – with reasons ranging from opaque details discouraging investment to being a knee-jerk intervention that will achieve nothing. Instead, they are lobbying for the government to open up more onshore drilling to ease the supply crunch, a move that will do nothing to ease the current urgent shortage.
The devil is in the details. On the surface of it, the government having power to dictate flows of natural gas to favour domestic consumers in times of national shortage is logical. The question is how. In countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, state oil firms like Petronas and Pertamina will perform the national balancing act on behalf of the government. But Australia is a free market; and the companies it is restricting from selling LNG are the ones that it will depend on to redirect the gas domestically. Interventions like this need to be well thought out, otherwise, as some analysts have noted, could have ‘long term unintended consequences for energy security and the economy.’
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Supply chains are currently in crisis. They have been for a long time now, ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped the way the world works. Stressed shipping networks and operational blockages – coupled with China’s insistence on a Covid-zero policy – means that cargo tanker rates are at an all-time high and that there just aren’t enough of them. McDonalds and KFCs in Asia are running out of French fries to sell, not because there aren’t enough potatoes in Idaho, but because there aren’t enough ships to deliver them to Japan or to Singapore from Los Angeles. The war in Ukraine has placed a particular emphasis on food supply chains by disrupting global wheat and sunflower oil supply chains and kicking off distressingly high levels of food price inflation across North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It was against this backdrop that Indonesia announced a complete ban on palm oil exports. That nuclear option shocked the markets, set off a potential new supply chain crisis and has particular implications on future of crude oil pricing and biofuels in Asia.
A brief recap. Like most of Asia, Indonesia has been grappling with food price inflation as consequence of Covid-19. Like most of Asia, Indonesia has been attempting to control this through a combination of shielding its most vulnerable citizens through continued subsidies while attempting to optimise supply chains. Like most of Asia, Indonesia hasn’t been to control the market at all, because uncoordinated attempts across a wide spectrum of countries to achieve a similar level of individual protectionism is self-defeating.
Cooking oil is a major product of sensitive importance in Indonesia, and one that it is self-sufficient in as a result of its status as the world’s largest palm oil producer. So large is Indonesia in that regard that its excess palm oil production has been directed to increasingly higher biodiesel mandates, with a B40 mandate – diesel containing 40% of palm material – originally schedule for full implementation this year. But as palm oil prices started rising to all-time highs at the beginning of January, cooking oil started becoming scarcer in Indonesia. The government blamed hoarding and – wary of the Ramadan period and domestic unrest – implemented a Domestic Market Obligation on palm oil refineries, directing them to devote 20% of projected exports for domestic use. Increasingly stricter terms for the DMO continued over February and March, only for an abrupt U-turn in mid-March that removed the DMO completely. But as the war in Ukraine drove prices even further, Indonesia shocked the market by announcing an total ban on palm oil exports in late April. Chaotically, the ban was first clarified to be palm olein only (straight refining cooking oil), but then flip-flopped into a total ban of crude palm oil as well. Markets went haywire, prices jumped to historical highs and Indonesia’s trading partners reacted with alarm.
Joko Widodo has said that the ban will be indefinite until domestic cooking oil prices ‘moderate’. With the global situation as it is, ‘moderate’ is unlikely to be achieved until the end of 2022 at least, if ‘moderate’ is taken to be the previous level of palm oil prices – roughly half of current pricing. Logistically, Indonesia cannot hold out on the ban for more than two months. Only a third of Indonesia’s monthly palm oil production is consumed domestically; the rest is exported. An indefinite ban means that not only fill storage tanks up beyond capacity and estates forced to let fruit rot, but Indonesia will be missing out on crucial revenue from its crude palm oil export tax. Which is used to fund its biodiesel subsidies.
And that’s where the implications on oil come in. Indonesia’s ham-fisted attempt at protectionism has dire implications on biofuels policies in Asia. Palm oil prices within Indonesia might sink as long as surplus volumes can’t make it beyond the borders, but international palm oil prices will remain high as consuming countries pivot to producers like Malaysia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, West Africa and Latin America. That in turn, threatens the biodiesel mandates in Thailand and Malaysia. The Thai government has already expressed concern over palm-led food price inflation and associated pressure on its (subsidised) biodiesel programme, launching efforts to mitigate the worst effects. Malaysia – which has a more direct approach to subsidised fuels – is also feeling the pinch. Thailand’s move to B10 and Malaysia’s move to B20 is now in jeopardy; in fact, Thailand has regressed its national mandate from B7 to B5. And the reason is that the differential between the bio- and the diesel portion of the biodiesel is now so disparate that subsidy regimes break down. It would be far cheaper – for the government, the tax-payers and consumers – to use straight diesel instead of biodiesel, as evidenced by Thailand’s reversal in mandates.
That, in turn, has implications on crude pricing. While OPEC+ is stubbornly sticking to its gentle approach to managing global crude supply, the stunning rebound in Asian demand has already kept the consumption side tight to match that supply. Crude prices above US$100/b are a recipe for demand destruction, and Asian economies have been preparing for this by looking at alternatives; biofuels for example. In the past four years, Indonesia has converted some of its oil refineries into biodiesel plants; in China, stricter crude import quotas are paving the way for China to clamp down on its status of a fuels exporter in favour of self-sustainability. But what happens when crude prices are high, but the prices of alternatives are higher? That is the case for palm oil now, where the gasoil-palm spread is now triple the previous average.
Part of this situation is due to market dynamics. Part of it is due to geopolitical effects. But part of it is also due to Indonesia’s knee-jerk reaction. Supply disruption at the level of a blanket ban is always seismic and kicks off a chain of unintended consequences; see the OPEC oil shocks of the 70s. Indonesia’s palm oil export ban is almost at that level. ‘Indefinite’ is a vague term and offers no consolation to markets looking for direction. Damage will be done, even if the ban lasts a month. But the longer it lasts – Indonesian general elections are due in February 2024 – the more serious the consequences could be. And the more the oil and refining industry in Asia will have to think about their preconceived notions of the future of oil in the region.
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An online shop is a type of e-commerce website where the products are typically marketed over the internet. The online sale of goods and services is a type of electronic commerce, or "e-commerce". The construction supply online shop makes it all the more convenient for customers to get what they need when they want it. The construction supply industry is on the rise, but finding the right supplier can be difficult. This is where an online store comes in handy.
Nowadays, everyone is shopping online - from groceries to clothes. And it's no different for construction supplies. With an online store, you can find all your supplies in one place and have them delivered to your doorstep. Construction supply online shops are a great way to find all the construction supplies you need. They also offer a wide variety of products from different suppliers, making it easier for customers to find what they're looking for. A construction supply online shop is essential for any construction company. They are the primary point of contact for the customers and they provide them with all the goods they need.
Most construction supply companies have an online shop where customers can purchase everything they need for their project, but some still prefer to use brick-and-mortar stores instead, so it’s important to sell both in your store.
Construction supply is an essential part of any construction site too. Construction supply shops are usually limited to the geographic area where they are located. This is because, in order for construction supplies to be delivered on time, they must be close to the construction site that ordered them. But with modern technology and internet connectivity, it has become possible for people to purchase their construction supplies online and have them shipped right to their doorstep. Online stores such as Supply House offer a wide variety of products that can help you find what you need without having to drive around town looking for it.