WoodMac: gas sector hit by coronavirus and LNG oversupply

Illustration purposes only (Image courtesy of MISC)

The worldwide natural gas sector has been impacted by a “triple whammy” of coronavirus, oil price crash and LNG oversupply, the consultancy Wood Mackenzie said in a report on Wednesday.

“While the collapse of LNG prices towards US production break-evens was foreseeable, the narrative for the rest of 2020 could not be more unpredictable”, Wood Mackenzie research director Robert Sims said.

“An already oversupplied LNG market comes out of a mild winter with high inventories across Europe and Asia, only to face a global pandemic which has already destroyed gas demand across China and looks increasingly set to do the same across the Asia Pacific and Europe”, Sims said.

He said that the consultancy expects global LNG demand to grow by 6 per cent year-on-year to 371 million tonnes in 2020.

However, these numbers would need constant revision as economies around the world “feel the force” of the growing pandemic, Sims added.

Coronavirus impact in China and Europe

The impact to gas consumption in China has been severe, as robust containment measures were quickly put in place through January and February, according to the consultancy’s report.

With a resumption in economic activity, Wood Mackenzie estimates a full-year gas demand reduction of between 6 and 14 billion cubic metres in 2020, translating to a 4 per cent to 6 percent growth in gas demand this year.

With the daily number of new cases continuing to fall in China, policy focus has turned to gearing up economic recovery.

Daily tariff indicators suggest transport and logistic constraints are being lifted quickly.

Also, the government is reducing gas prices to non-residential users, which provides support to coronavirus-affected businesses to resume operations, Wood Mackanzie said.

However, these are insufficient to stir lost-demand recovery and new coal-to-gas switching programmes, it said.

According to Wood Mackanzie, China’s LNG demand is expected to reach 65 million tonnes this year, representing a 6.6 per cent growth year-on-year.

Wood Mackenzie expects that in Europe, low gas prices would continue to support gas-fired generation.

However, future coronavirus containment measures and threats of an economic downturn pose a risk.

Worst-case scenarios could see lockdowns deployed in more countries, risking severe disruptions to global supply chains by restricting movements of people and goods, the consultancy said.

Low oil prices support coal-to-gas switching in power sector

Should low oil prices be sustained, oil-indexed LNG contracts in Japan and South Korea will become cheaper, according to Wood Mackenzie.

This could disrupt coal generation in favour of gas in both markets, as soon as August this year, similar to how sustained low TTF prices in 2019 removed coal from power grids across North West Europe, the consultancy said.

“We expect Japan’s LNG demand to grow 5.1 per cent to 81 million tonnes in 2020, compared to last year. At the same time, South Korea’s LNG demand is expected to rise 7.7 per cent to 42 million tonnes, as more LNG displaces coal in the power sector of both countries”, Sims said.

Elsewhere, attention moves to potential loss of associated US gas supply, which could hurt US LNG producers further, although the impact will likely be felt through 2021 due to the delayed nature of drilling reductions.

“At a lower $35 per barrel oil price, we could expect about 2 billion cubic feet per day of US gas production to be impacted by middle of next year”, Sims added.

Fundamentals of LNG oversupply remain

Despite being eclipsed in the news, the fundamentals behind the global LNG oversupply remain, according to Wood Mackenzie.

These include strong production growth, weak Northeast Asian demand with prices as low as $2.75 per million British Thermal Unit and an increasingly saturated European gas market with TTF prices have sunk to $2.98 million British Thermal Units.

“Prospects of any quick recovery in the latter two have been dealt a blow by the impending economic downturn many are predicting this year, leaving the only likely balancing item left – a turn down of US Gulf coast production”, Sims said.

“We forecast 0.5 billion cubic feet per day of production will be lost through Q2-Q3, but there is risk that this number may prove too conservative if demand drops further”, Sims concluded.