Asia spot prices of LNG slip as weak northern demand remains

(Reuters) - Asian spot prices of LNG declined this week, falling to a 21-month low, as weak demand in the northeast Asia region continues to pressure prices down.

The average LNG price for May delivery into northeast Asia <LNG-AS> was $13 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), down 50 cents, or 3.7%, from the previous week, industry sources estimated.

Prices have fallen 53% year-to-date and around 81% from the August 2022 peak at $70.50/mmBtu.

"Demand from northeast Asian buyers still remains broadly weak, with few end-users needing to step into the spot market for additional prompt supply," said Samuel Good, head of LNG pricing at commodity pricing agency Argus.

He added that traders, however, are looking at the potential for any third-quarter demand that could emanate from China, where demand is expected to pick up on rising economic activity following the lifting of strict COVID lockdowns in December.

In Europe, gas prices rose on Friday due to firm demand and as industrial action protesting against pension system changes in France affected operations at nuclear plants and LNG terminals.

European gas prices had also been supported by mildly colder weather and less wind.

"A conflicted market to end the week, Europe showing some upside potential which would ordinarily pull Asia up with it. However, recent prompt tender rates have been lower than expected for delivered terms, coupled with a lack of any real demand for North Asia," said Toby Copson, global head of trading at Trident LNG.

"I'd have to say short-term bearish outlook on Asian pricing until some demand driver emerges."

The market has also continued to eye the potential for production issues across several Atlantic basin liquefaction terminals, added Argus's Good, including at Freeport LNG in the United States and Angola LNG.

Angola's only LNG project had recently cancelled tenders due to production issues at its plant, according to trading sources this week, while a company spokesperson said the plant is currently operating at reduced rates.

Meanwhile, the second biggest U.S. LNG export plant, Freeport, had cancelled up to four shipments of LNG due to restart snags after an eight-month-long outage, trading sources told Reuters.

S&P Global Commodity Insights assessed its daily north-west Europe LNG Marker (NWM) price benchmark for cargoes delivered in May on ex-ship (DES) basis at $12.334/mmBtu on March 24, a discount of $1.475/mmBtu to the May gas price at the Dutch gas TTF hub, said Allen Reed, managing editor, Atlantic LNG.

"The price of delivered LNG into Northwest Europe hit a 21-month low of $11.226 on March 20 as winter ended alongside strong natural gas inventories," said Reed. "The price has remained depressed alongside the extension of strikes at French LNG terminals."

Argus' assessment for Northwest Europe DES LNG price was at $12.70/mmBtu on March 23.

On LNG spot freight, rates declined $6,250/day in both the Atlantic and Pacific basins since last Friday, said Eleni Balomenou, analyst at Spark Commodities. Atlantic rates fell below $50,000/day, the lowest since August 2022, while Pacific rates also declined to $71,500/day.

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