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LNG Has Cruelest Winter Ever Amid Price Collapse, Analysts Say

Spot prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia recently fell below $5/MMBtu. That's the lowest they've been since 2009 and the lowest ever for this time of year -- winter -- when seasonal heating demand usually causes prices to peak, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofA) analysts said in a note Thursday.

CWC Group Ltd.'s LNG Hub recently asked readers to pick one word to describe the LNG business from this year through 2020. The most popular response was "challenging," followed by "exciting" and "uncertain."

Those all seem apt given BofA's take on the LNG market. New liquefaction and export capacity is coming online at the same time that demand in LNG-buying countries has been contracting. Capacity start-ups in Australia and the United States are poised to add 5.6 Bcf/d of new liquefaction capacity this year and next combined. The current market is right now absorbing 32 Bcf/d of supply, according to BofA.

Last year "...LNG imports declined in the three largest Latin American importing countries," the analysts said. "China's LNG imports contracted for the first time ever in 2015. We expect Asian demand contractions to continue into 2016 on a weak macro [outlook] and strong growth in nuclear and renewable generation capacity.

"With two years of very strong supply growth ahead of us, the only market where LNG would go is Europe as it holds material spare capacity in gas-fired power generation." Flows have returned to Europe and the Atlantic Basin as the Pacific Basin is "well supplied." Inflows to Europe were up by 16% last year, BofA said, and they're likely to rise further.

"As such, global gas prices will have to adjust lower to incentivize European operators to switch from coal to gas," the analysts said. "UK NBP [National Balancing Point] prices have already fallen through coal switching levels as the UK coal-to-gas switching has been limited so far.

"Hence, European prices may drop to 25 pence/therm ($3.50/MMBtu) where switching into gas starts in Germany. We expect the Asian Spot LNG versus UK NBP price spread to remain tight for years to come, and hence we expect both UK and Asian spot gas prices as a ratio of Brent [crude] prices to drop meaningfully this year.

"Put differently, global gas prices will stay weak for some time."

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