In 2019, slower economic growth, Chinese policy changes and a mild winter caused global gas demand growth to slow in a context of oversupply, resulting in a growing LNG surplus and much lower prices. The growth in natural gas demand has slowed down from 5% in 2018 to 2.3% in 2019, returning to the average annual growth rate observed since the start of the century. The main factor behind growth was the switching from coal and oil to natural gas in the power and industry sectors, which was prompted by the competitiveness of natural gas thanks to a growing abundant low-cost supply. This was notably the case in the United States, Europe and some Asian emerging countries. Thus, natural gas has remained the main beneficiary of the energy demand growth, to the detriment of coal in particular, causing its share in the energy mix to expand further.
- The global oil and gas markets are going through an extraordinary period.
- Crude oil and natural gas prices have fallen significantly since the beginning of 2020 to reach historically low levels at the end of March.
- Before the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), spot gas prices were already at seasonal lows due to LNG oversupply, an unseasonably mild winter in the northern hemisphere, economic turmoil (trade war between the United States and China) and renewed confidence in future pipeline gas supply in Europe.
- China’s gas demand slowed down at the start of the year as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted industrial output. This downturn has gradually compounded the LNG glut on the global spot market and has accentuated the decline in spot gas prices.
- From mid-March, the decline in spot gas prices has been further accelerated by the impacts of the lockdowns which have ramped up around the world.
- The impact of the recent slump in oil prices on oil-indexed LNG prices will not be seen until late in the April-June quarter because of the time lag between crude oil and LNG prices under long term contracts.
- The COVID-19 has already had a devastating impact on global gas demand, which could continue for some time as the pandemic spreads across continents.
- A number of LNG projects have already faced headwinds amid the coronavirus outbreak and current low oil prices environment. However, as of today, these projects’ delays do not alter Cedigaz’ view for a well-supplied LNG market by 2025/2026.
The LNG market grew strongly in 2019. Global Imports (net of re-exports and domestic shipment, Fig_1&2) were up by 12.2% to reach 350.5 Mt (+38 Mt Y-o-Y) driven by the arrival of abundant LNG supply. In a context of weak growth in Asia (+5 Mt Y-O-Y compared to +27 Mt Y-o-Y in 2018) , which had been the driving force in previous years, Europe absorbed the bulk of the new volumes (+37 Mt), acting as a market of last resort. In all other regions, combined net imports’ decline was -4 Mt (Includes -2.3 Mt from Egypt in North Africa as it ceased LNG imports). As the growth in LNG supply outpaced demand, prices plummeted, reinforcing the competitiveness of gas in Europe.
Figure_1: Monthly Evolution of LNG Trade Y-O-Y (Mt)