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Tide Rolling Out on LNG Price Support, BofA Merrill Lynch Says

The tide of factors that lifted prices for spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) last year is rolling out, and analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) say they are "bearish" on LNG prices relative to crude oil.

LNG production growth in the United States and Australia is more than offsetting declines elsewhere, and that is set to continue, they said. "Meanwhile, Asian LNG consumers are massively over-contracted to 2020," BofAML said. "Whatever structural demand growth in Asia and floating regas[ification] and storage unit demand cannot absorb, European utilities will have to take. But this will only happen at the right price."

Spot LNG prices in Asia could go as low as $4.50/MMBtu during the first half of this year, the analysts said, in order to reach a level supported by coal-to-gas switching in Germany. During the second half of the year, LNG prices could potentially find support from U.S. gas prices as they close the arb on U.S. exports and slow the departure of tankers from the U.S. Gulf Coast, BofAML said.

Spot LNG prices rose 38% during 2016 and finished at $9.50/MMBtu, the highest in two years, BofAML said. China's decision to cut coal output sparked a rally in that commodity, which lifted LNG. A cold start to the winter in 2016 and restocking by Asian LNG buyers also helped. The party for LNG is ending, though.

"Going forward we are bearish spot LNG prices," the analysts said. "Coal price are now facing again, the seasonally bullish factors on LNG are starting to wear off, and the underlying fundamentals are still bearish on new LNG supply in the coming months and for the rest of 2017."

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