Here is Rystad Energy’s gas and LNG market update from analyst, Andre Nikolai Nilsen:
European gas prices – specifically front-month Title Transfer Facility (TTF) futures – have fluctuated by an average of 9% daily over the past 20 days, mainly due to ongoing and extended Norwegian maintenance, strikes in Australia, and concerns about European economic data impacting industrial activity.
US Henry Hub (HH) futures have been less volatile and are up about 9% in the same period, adding 5% on 10 September in response to unplanned maintenance at Freeport LNG.
Although there is currently no clear price trend, higher futures prices than spot prices for both European and US prices indicate that gas buyers are expecting a potential uptick from the current price range in the coming months.
In Asia, LNG buying activity ahead of the winter could also push prices higher.
TTF futures rose by about 15% over the past three days, reaching €35.61 per megawatt-hour (MWh) on 13 September.
Daily fluctuations over the past 20 days have averaged 9%, double the fluctuations seen for corresponding US Henry Hub prices.
Henry Hub prices have kept within a range of $2.48 and $2.83 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) since 20 June, with occasional minor deviations.
An extension of the Freeport closure beyond the expected restart on 19 September could challenge that upper price range.
As of 7 September, storage levels in Europe are 93.31% full, yet the growth of storage injections has slowed.
This is as expected, since reaching the 95% target just before the start of the heating season is now within reach.
Russian pipeline flows added 2.1% week-on-week to 90.64 million cubic meters per day (MMcmd) as of 9 September.
These flows remain about 75% lower than the peak levels seen prior to the invasion of Ukraine.
In contrast, the European Union (EU) continues to import LNG from Russia and has no immediate plans to ban Russian LNG in the short term.
European leaders are keen to avoid further disruptions to their gas supply. Notably, Spain is now the second-largest importer of Russian LNG.
Norwegian pipeline flows are down 5.7% week-on-week to 129.8 MMcmd as of 9 September.
This reduction, from 340 MMcmd to the recent low of 122.6 MMcmd on 7 September, is primarily due to planned maintenance across several production facilities (Figure 1).
Most of these facilities are expected to conclude their yearly maintenance within the next few weeks.
Assuming operations resume as planned and there are no further extensions of maintenance, we do not expect any short-term impact on prices.
Bearish data continues to come in from the EU, with year-on-year industrial production declining by 2.2% (against a market expectation of a 0.3% drop), and with the ZEW Economic Sentiment index showing more pessimism among analysts about future economic developments over the next six months.
Furthermore, the European Commission lowered its economic growth forecast for the eurozone, expecting an economic contraction of 0.4% in Germany for 2023, compared to a previous estimate of a 0.2% increase.
Year-on-year inflation remains elevated in the EU, although it has declined from 10.6% in October 2022 to 5.3% in August.
The latest interest rate increase by the European Central Bank on 14 September could impact natural gas demand as manufacturers face increased costs.
The ECB said this would be the last rate increase for now, but also indicated it expects inflation to come down more slowly than previously anticipated over the next two years and reduced its forecast for economic growth in the 20 countries that use the euro.
Chevron has initiated a process to seek an intractable bargaining declaration from Australia’s Fair Work Commission (FWC), as negotiations with the Offshore Alliance (OA) union over its industrial action at the Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG facilities have broken down.
The FWC has set a 22 September court date to hear Chevron’s application.
The strikes began with brief work stoppages on Friday 9 September and are planned to escalate to two weeks of 24-hour strikes starting 14 September.
Chevron has stated that both facilities will continue to supply LNG to the market using stored reserves, though these reserves have limited capacity.
Gorgon LNG has two LNG tanks, each with a storage capacity of 180,000 cubic meters, while the Wheatstone facility has two LNG tanks that can store 150,000 cubic meters apiece.
This means that Chevron’s capability to supply LNG from the two facilities in the event of a full production halt is about four cargoes.
We do not expect the strikes to fully halt production, as this outcome would result in equipment damage and substantial financial losses for Chevron.
Unipec, a trading arm of China’s Sinopec, said on 12 September it plans to buy 25 LNG cargoes, with one cargo for late October, five for mid- to late-November, seven for December, and the rest to be distributed monthly throughout 2024.
Sellers have been given notice to submit offers to Unipec by 15 September.
We understand this as a combination of winter security demand and optimization.
Furthermore, Southeast Asian importers have purchased cargoes for delivery in November and December at prices exceeding $12 per MMBtu, with some purchases approaching $14 per MMBtu.
This buying activity may anchor prices higher.