A blast of cold weather in northeast Asia and a shortage of ships for transporting gas have sparked a scramble for cargoes of liquefied natural gas, igniting a steep rise in prices. Prices for LNG shipped to China, Japan and South Korea, all major importers, have surged from record lows to all-time highs in less than a year. The regional price benchmark assessed by S&P Global Platts rose to $28.221 per million British thermal units on Monday, and has shot up 87% so far in 2021.
LNG is 15 times more expensive than it was when coronavirus hammered demand for oil and gas in the spring of 2020, the nadir of a yearslong slump in gas prices globally. In some cases, prices paid on the ground for cargoes have exceeded the levels indicated by Platts. “It is a perfect storm,” said Toby Dunipace, executive director for LNG at London shipbroker Simpson Spence Young. Stores of gas in East Asia were severely depleted after the mercury plunged, he added.
Despite outages for producers in Australia, Norway and elsewhere, there is no global shortage of LNG. The trouble is moving gas to where it is needed. Monthly arrivals of liquefied-natural gas in Asia from the U.S.Source: Vortexa .million metric tons2019’200.00.51.01.52.02.53.03.54.0
Freezing weather in Asia—temperatures plumbed as low as minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit in Beijing last week, a half-century low—is creating more demand for gas, which is burned to generate electricity and warm homes and offices. A lack of available ships means gas can’t move fast enough from the U.S. and Europe, where it is plentiful, to sate this demand.
Exporters on the Gulf Coast are running at full throttle to ship the surplus of gas in the U.S. to Asia and profit from significantly higher prices in the region. Asia imported a record 3.4 million metric tons of U.S. LNG in December, according to cargo-tracking firm Vortexa.