Two of the world’s largest commodity traders said delivered volumes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) increased markedly in 2019 as the global market for the super-chilled fuel grew rapidly and buyers became more flexible.

Switzerland-based Gunvor Group Ltd. estimated that it would ultimately deliver 16 million metric tons (mmt), or about 2 Bcf/d, of LNG this year, up by 45% compared to 2018. Those volumes would solidify Gunvor’s place as the world’s largest independent LNG trader.

The company’s annual volumes have steadily increased over the last three years, going from 4 mmt in 2016 to 7 mmt in 2017 and 11 mmt in 2018. India was the largest market this year, where Gunvor delivered 75 cargoes.

Gunvor also remains the largest charterer of LNG vessels, conducting more than 50 charters in 2019. It currently has 15 LNG vessels under time charter, in which it retains commercial control of a vessel owned by a shipper for a specified period of time to deliver the fuel. Gunvor also noted that it finished more than 25 spot transactions last year as the global market becomes more fluid and less dependent on long-term, point-to-point contracts.

The growth in LNG this year was sparked by increasing supplies from the United States and Russia, as well as more spot buying, particularly in the Northeast Asian market.  

“More countries are buying LNG, and buyers are becoming more flexible and more willing to buy from the spot market as opposed to traditional long-term contracts, recognizing that security of supply can better be provided on a liquid, open and transparent spot market,” said Dutch trading house Trafigura Group Pte. Ltd., which also reported a sharp spike in delivered LNG volumes.

Trafigura said its LNG volumes were up 27% year/year in 2019 to 12.6 mmt (1.6 Bcf/d). This year marked the start of shipments under a 15-year offtake agreement signed with a Cheniere Energy Inc. affiliate in 2018. Cheniere operates the Corpus Christi and Sabine Pass export terminals along the Gulf Coast.

Trafigura also noted that as global gas prices continue to come closer together, the firm was able to capitalize on the integration of its LNG and natural gas desks trading as one team. Its natural gas book grew significantly this year, with traded volumes up by 147% to 17.1 mmt.

Trafigura said it was again the largest supplier of natural gas to Mexico from the U.S., while in Europe it expanded business, particularly in Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

As global supplies have increased and demand in Asia has weakened to push down prices, Trafigura said the “European market absorbed the bulk of our Atlantic cargoes,” like those from the U.S. Given the glut and low prices, the firm also noted that a significant driver of global demand was for gas-to-coal switching.

The European market is brimming with natural gas. Europe’s LNG imports have been steadily increasing since October 2018, and reached a new monthly record of 12.7 Bcf/d in November 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Indeed, European destinations were among the leaders for U.S. exports in October, with South Korea (42.2 Bcf), the United Kingdom (26.3 Bcf), Japan (24.5 Bcf), France (14.2 Bcf) and Spain (13.7 Bcf) the top-five countries for domestic cargoes, according to the Department of Energy.

Regardless of oversupplied markets, both trading houses said they still see opportunities for growth. 

“Despite the near-term bearish sentiment in the LNG and natural gas markets, Gunvor remains positive on growth of natural gas within” the future energy mix, said the company’s co-head of LNG Kalpesh Patel. “While more than 60% of Gunvor’s volumes delivered in 2018 were under mid- to long-term contracts, that percentage will also increase, as we are progressing on a number of long-term initiatives around the world, including expanding our portfolio of vessels secured on a long-term charter.”