Chinese national oil companies (NOCs) are assessing how best to optimise their diverse supply portfolios as gas demand disappoints, leading to an oversupplied market and weaker prices. According to Wood Mackenzie, there are three major levers China can focus on to adjust market movements and how these levers are used to manage oversupply will impact LNG prices and suppliers in China.
In China gas demand growth has reduced significantly and demand is now expected to hit approximately 360 billion m3 and 560 billion m3 in 2020 and 2030 respectively compared to 420 billion m3 and 640 billion m3 previously. This is due to short term and structural drivers. Gavin Thompson, Principal Gas Consultant at Wood Mackenzie commented, “short term drivers include low oil prices and high domestic gas prices, reversal of environmental policies, competition from coal and hydro and warmer winter weather. Structural factors include the switch from industrial production to the service sector as a driver of economic growth.”
When it comes to LNG, Chinese companies have signed approximately 66 billion m3/y of term LNG contracts. Of this total, new contracts will ramp up through this year, ultimately supplying an addition of approximately 23 billion m3/y of gas into the domestic market by 2018. Given the significant downward revision in demand, China’s NOCs are not pursuing numerous channels to reduce volumes. This includes efforts to renegotiate ramp up schedules and pricing terms and reselling volumes into the Pacific market where agreement can be reached with suppliers. Despite weakening demand growth, Central Asian volumes into China also continue to rise. Thompson commented, “as a result, there is an oversupply of contracted LNG into the market, particularly during periods of low seasonal demand. We expect China will be over contracted by about 18 billion m3 from 2015 till 2027.”
Wood Mackenzie has said that it believes that Chinese NOCs will have three levers to manage in order to optimise supply and minimise losses: firstly, they may restrict domestic investment in more expensive developments and defer investment until demand recovery. Secondly, PetroChina will manage overall volumes of pipeline imports using take or pay provisions, with the potential for spot volumes above take or pay during periods of peak demand. Thirdly, the NOCs will maximise contracted LNG volumes to sell into the domestic market as term and spot prices look competitive against regulated City Gate tariffs due to low oil prices.
Thompson has commented, “with strong growth in contracted LNG and low LNG prices, we continue to expect that some volumes of LNG will be resold back into the broader market.” Some of this will of course be seasonal, in particular LNG that might otherwise have supplied northern China during the warmer months. However, even at times of higher demand it is unlikely that all contracted LNG will find a market in China.
An oil price recovery ought to stimulate Chinese gas demand and hence create more market space for LNG, but the timing of this is unsure. Thompson concluded, “given the uncertainties around the market outlook however, we believe that all options must remain on the table.”
Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd