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Cheniere Raising Guidance on Stronger-than-Expected LNG Pricing

Cheniere Energy Inc. is raising its full-year earnings guidance because pricing for liquefied natural gas (LNG) is “stronger and more durable” than originally forecast, CEO Jack Fusco said Friday.

The Houston-based operator delivered its first quarter results, noting that during the first three months of the year it exported 67 cargoes of LNG from the Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish, LA, to worldwide destinations, a 56% increase year/year. It also delivered 30 cargoes totaling more than 2 million metric tons (mmt). As of April 30, about 90 cargoes year-to-date had been produced, loaded and exported.

Sabine Pass began exporting gas in February 2016, the first U.S. facility to export LNG sourced from the Lower 48. In March Dominion Energy began commercial service at the second LNG export project, Cove Point LNG on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

The increase in Sabine Pass exports was evident in the first quarter results, as net profits climbed 561% to $357 million ($1.52/share) from year-ago profits of $54 million (23 cents). Revenues jumped 85% to $2.24 billion from $1.21 billion.

“Our record first quarter 2018 results are the product of a robust LNG market and superior execution throughout the company, and we are raising our full year 2018 guidance to reflect our year to date performance coupled with LNG market pricing that is stronger and more durable than we previously forecast,” said Fusco said.

Since its startup, Sabine Pass has exported about 350 cumulative LNG cargoes, with deliveries to 26 countries and regions worldwide, according to Cheniere.

“Solid LNG market fundamentals and the strategic positioning of our world-class LNG platform reinforce my confidence in our long-term growth prospects,” the CEO said.

“We are currently in what is traditionally called a shoulder month for LNG as peak winter demand from Asia moderates, where we have seen prices come off of the winter highs,” Fusco noted during the conference call Friday to discuss quarterly results. “However, Cheniere still is “seeing healthy netbacks from Sabine Pass for this summer, and pricing for next winter is already near double-digits as utilities buy forward for late-2018 and early 2019.”

Fusco and Chief Commercial Officer Anatol Feygin also offered some insight into LNG markets worldwide.

“We are witnessing key existing and growing LNG demand centers,” Fusco said. “Demand growth is most pronounced in Asia, with China being the largest consumer of incremental LNG supply…”

China “absorbed nearly 40% of the market supply growth in 2017,” and in the first quarter it absorbed “over half of all the supply growth, increasing imports in the first quarter this year by 60% compared to last year.”

Cheniere also is eyeing more growth, with the Panama Canal in its sights. Three LNG vessels recently transited the locks in succession, a first in the Panama Canal history, and all three of the vessels were enroute to Sabine Pass, Fusco noted.

“The Panama Canal is an important piece of infrastructure for both Cheniere and our customers, and our ability to utilize it efficiently is important, especially as a preferred route to growing demand centers in Asia,” Fusco said. The company is working with the Panama Canal Authority, which “has demonstrated significant cooperation and support” to increase LNG trade.

Feygin said unlike previous years, LNG demand growth no longer is solely propelled by the traditional Asian markets of Japan, South Korea or Taiwan, aka JKT.

“In aggregate, Asia consumed an additional 9.1 mmt in 1Q2018 as compared to 1Q2017, with only 29% of that growth attributed to the traditional JKT markets,” Feygin said. “More than 4.5 mmt came from China, and about 1.8 million from India and Pakistan.”

China has become the third largest LNG delivery destination for Sabine Pass.

India's LNG imports climbed 26% year/year in the first quarter in part because the country's hydro reservoir levels were down and temperatures were up in March, Feygin said. “Equally however, Pakistan's demand for LNG was just as impressive, soaring 60% year-on-year amid a ban on fuel oil imports,” and newly operational floating storage regasification units enabled the country to address “pent-up gas generation demand…”

Meanwhile, Cheniere continues to progress train 3 at the proposed Corpus Christi export project in South Texas, with expectations of making a “positive final investment decision on that project in the coming weeks.”

Through Cheniere Partners, the company is developing up to six trains at the Sabine Pass LNG terminal adjacent to the existing regasification facilities. Each train is expected to have a nominal production capacity, prior to adjusting for planned maintenance, production reliability, and potential overdesign, of about 4.5 mmty of LNG and an adjusted nominal production capacity of 4.3-4.6 mmty of LNG. Trains 1-4 are operational, train 5 is under construction, and train 6 is being commercialized and has all necessary regulatory approvals in place.

Cheniere also is developing up to three trains near Corpus Christi to export up to 4.5 mmty of LNG. The first two trains are under construction and the third train “has been commercialized, is in the process of being financed, and has all necessary regulatory approvals in place.”

Also in development is a Corpus Christi expansion project that would have up to seven midscale liquefaction trains adjacent to the LNG project, each with nominal capacity of 1.4 mmty.

The total expected nominal production capacity of the seven midscale trains is about 9.5 mmty of LNG.

On the strategic side, Cheniere noted that in February entered into two LNG sale and purchase agreements (SPA) with PetroChina International Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp., for the sale of 1.2 mmty of LNG through 2043, with a portion of the supply beginning in 2018 and the balance beginning in 2023. In January it entered into a 15-year LNG SPA with Trafigura Pte Ltd. for about 1 mmty 1 beginning in 2019.

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