The liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is expected to be oversupplied over the next few years due to the start-up of new projects in Australia, the U.S. and Russia, according to a report by the Qatar National Bank.
High oil prices in the past, to which LNG contracts are linked, have encouraged the start-up of various projects around the world. Supply from these projects is expected to come into the market over the next few years.
As a result, the market is expected to be “over-supplied up to 2020”, QNB said in the report on Sunday adding that, beyond 2020, the market is likely to be “under-supplied as the current low oil price environment makes starting new projects unviable meaning that demand will eventually catch up”.
According to the report, LNG supply capacity is expected to grow strongly by around 8% a year through 2020.
The environment of high demand growth and high oil prices prior to 2014 led to a large number of LNG projects being considered globally in a number of countries. But the sharp reversal in oil prices since mid-2014 led to a re-evaluation of these projects.
According to QNB, only a fraction of the considered projects is now expected to come on stream. In particular, those projects already under construction will probably be completed. But those in the earlier design or engineering stage could very well be scrapped, the bank said.
Still, as a result of the projects already under construction, a large amount of LNG supply is expected to hit the market, especially from Australia, the US and Russia.
While the supply outlook is largely pre-determined by the progress on existing projects and is relatively insensitive to price movements, the picture for demand is less certain, QNB said.
“But even under the bullish scenario of demand growth of 6% a year through 2020, it will still fall short of supply capacity.”
Such strong demand growth could materialise under two conditions.
First, natural gas replacing coal as feedstock for power generation in order to meet global environmental targets. This effect is expected to be particularly visible in China and Europe, QNB said
Second, higher incomes, particularly in fast-growing emerging markets such as India, leading to increased demand for power and, consequently, for LNG, the bank said.
“Cyclicality” to continue
Putting together the demand and supply outlooks yields three implications.
One, because demand growth is expected to fall short of supply, the LNG market is expected to be over-supplied in the next five years. Two, the over-supplied market is likely to exert downward pressure on spot prices. This could provide incentives for LNG buyers to purchase on the spot market rather than through long-term contracts. This in turn could lead to renegotiations of long-term contracts, which would impact suppliers, especially the newcomers, QNB said.
Three, the drying up of the project pipeline (no new plants approved so far in 2016), the long lead time of LNG projects (five years or more) and the strong expected growth in demand as more environmental-friendly measures are implemented should lead to supply shortages beyond 2020, the bank said.
In other words, the strong cyclicality in the LNG market should continue over the next decade, QNB concluded.