Dutch Title Transfer Facility, aka TTF, the European natural gas point of reference, set trading records on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) trading platform last month, which claimed it is paving the way for a possible transition to the global natural gas benchmark.

TTF futures and options trading hit an open interest record of 1.47 million lots in February and a record volumes of 968.69 TWh, ICE said. Options traded at a record 126.38 TWh during the month, including hitting a record 40.58 TWh on Feb. 21, which was an increase of 55% compared to the previous single-day trading record in November 2017. Year/year, average daily volume (ADV) was up 47% and open interest rose by 74%, according to ICE.

“Back in February 2010, ICE identified TTF as an emerging natural gas hub,” said ICE’s Gordon Bennett, managing director, utility markets. “Today, TTF has grown into the most liquid European natural gas benchmark, alongside National Balancing Point. With its continued record trading activity, TTF has strong potential to become the global natural gas benchmark.”

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Liquefied natural gas (LNG) trading also gained momentum in February, with Platts Japan Korea Marker (JKM) futures trading a record 26,552 lots and an open interest record of 30,795 lots on Feb. 28. ADV was up 395% year/year, and open interest jumped 164, according to ICE.

Meanwhile, JKM Average Price Options launched on March 4 and became the first cleared JKM options, according to ICE. The trade was a winter 2019 $9.00 call for 25 lots.

The rise in trading activity for the two benchmarks has occurred despite weakness in the global market during what has been an overall mild winter. The JKM closed the week ending March 1 at $6.12/MMBtu, a 19-month low, according to Energy Aspects. With the TTF trading relatively flat during the same week, the JKM-TTF spread fell to 34 cents/MMBtu for April and May contracts, well below what is needed to shift U.S. Gulf Coast LNG to Asia, the firm said.

“With April and May historically being the softest period for the LNG market, those spreads are probably as low as we are going to see and will mean any unhedged U.S. volumes, which will likely include the commissioning cargoes from the U.S. trains we expect will start up, should head to Europe,” Energy Aspects analyst Trevor Sikorski said. “What modest buying there is currently is coming from Indian buyers; volumes are quite small and more demand from India requires a timely start of its new regas capacity.”

Gujarat State Petroleum Corp. (GSPC) tendered for one cargo, and Qatargas provided a commissioning cargo for Indian Oil Corp.’s (IOC) new 5 million metric ton/year Ennore terminal, according to Energy Aspects. GAIL India Ltd. has been active in the spot markets as well, “although that has been as much on the sell side as the buy side as it looks to offload Cove Point volumes and replace them with more supply from closer to India,” Sikorski said.

On the supply side, recent tenders from Russia’s Sakhalin terminal offered five cargoes for delivery in 2Q2019, while Indonesia’s Bontang LNG offered three cargoes for April-May delivery, according to Energy Aspects. While some modest buying was still coming from electric utility Comision Federal de Electricidad in Mexico, which is having to backfill lost supply from a slow start to a number of pipelines downstream of the U.S. border, “global demand is still reeling from a very mild winter in Asia,” the firm said.

Looking ahead, as global prices dip, South Asian demand, considered fairly price sensitive, could pick up and provide some incremental demand outside of China, analysts said. In February, South Asian imports of 2.8 million tons were higher month/month, according to ClipperData. LNG deliveries to northeastern Asia dropped from January levels to 15.36 million tons, which was also 6% below February 2018 levels.

ClipperData reported that India imported 1.7 millions tons via 25 vessels in January. Petronet LNG Ltd. procured 14 vessels, Reliance Industries Ltd. accounted for three cargoes, while IOC, GSPC and Gail India each accounted for two.

In other news, Houston-based Cheniere Energy Partners LP said the fifth train at the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana has been substantially completed. Under sale and purchase agreements with Centrica plc and Total Gas & Power North America Inc., first commercial delivery is expected in August. Last week, federal regulators also approved in-service for Train 1 at Cheniere’s Corpus Christi export facility in South Texas.