Thursday 14 December 2017

Blockade of top supplier Qatar to accelerate global LNG shake-up

Henning Gloystein

Qatar's isolation by other Arab nations has dealt a strong hand to Japanese utilities in talks reviewing long-term gas contracts with the top LNG exporter, likely accelerating a shift to a more openly-traded global market for the fuel.

If Japan gets its way in the periodic contract review, the world's biggest buyer of LNG would have to import more short-notice supplies from producers such as the United States, another step away from rigid deals that run for decades towards a more active spot market.

At stake for Qatar are 7.2 million tonnes of annual liquefied natural gas (LNG) sold in contracts that expire in 2021. The $2.8bn a year in gas mostly goes to Japan's JERA, a joint venture between Tokyo Electric and Chubu Electric that is the world's single biggest LNG buyer.

"Since the crisis emerged, the Japanese are sure not to renew all contracts and they will push very hard to get more flexible terms," said an advisor on LNG contracts, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations.

Qatar and Japan as seller and buyer will each account for nearly a third of 300 million tonnes to be shipped this year in 500 tankers.

Any change in how volumes trade between them is sure to jolt an industry where practices in place since the 1970s are already being challenged.

In some ways the situation is similar to what happened in Europe between 2008 and 2014, when amid an economic crisis and tensions between Europe and Russia, European utilities renegotiated gas-purchase terms, freeing up more supplies for spot markets.

Three deals between Japan and Qatar are under a periodic review, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.

These will potentially allow for some adjustments, and the buyers may also only partially renew the contracts when they expire.

An official with a Japanese buyer would not comment on individual contracts, but said purchase agreements were typically reviewed every five years.

That fits with the deals under discussion, which will expire in 2021 and were signed in 1997/1998 and in 2012.

Qatar Petroleum was not available for comment.

LNG volumes grew to 260 million tonnes last year from 250 million tonnes in 2015, produced by around a dozen countries, with more than half coming from Qatar, Australia and Malaysia.

Thirty-nine countries imported LNG in 2016, up by four from the previous year, with 70pc of world consumption in Asia.

Facing competition from new producers, Qatar talked tough with Japan ahead of the contract reviews, warning buyers not to demand too many changes, or Japanese companies could be squeezed out of their stakes in Qatar's LNG projects.

But the tables have turned since Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Doha, boycotting its trade and weakening Qatar's negotiating position.

Cheniere, the only US company to export LNG so far, is offering its supplies as an alternative.

Unlike other exporters, Cheniere allows its buyers to re-sell cargoes.

The Qatar crisis "will further encourage international LNG buyers to include more American LNG ... for reliability reasons," said Kent Bayazitoglu, director of market analytics at Gelber & Associates in Houston. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Promoted Links

Also in Business