Fluctuations in European gas prices in recent days have alerted traders to a conundrum: whether the energy crisis is still acute enough to justify importing another cargo of liquefied natural gas by sea during the low-demand summer months.
The price of Europe’s benchmark Title Transfer Facility (TTF) rose as much as 20 percent to €36 per megawatt hour on Tuesday, extending a run that began last week when the first week on 10
TTF has fell more more than 90 percent since the peak of the energy crisis from a record high above €340/MwH last summer as Europe replenished its reserves and reduced its dependence on gas from Russia.
But prices have been rocked by forecasts of warmer weather and widening supply outages at key fields in Norway, and traders are starting to worry about gas supplies to the EU, despite stocks being unusually high for this time of year.
While the EU is on track to meet its goal of having its gas reserves 90 percent full by November, traders fear short-term demands could derail the plan.
They include a hot summer pumping more gas for cooling, a surge in Asian demand and further supply disruptions from Russia’s remaining pipelines. While Russia previously accounted for 90 percent of Europe’s supplies, the bloc still needs LNG in the winter months to cover shortfalls.
“Everybody knows in the back of their minds that once this gas starts to be used up and if costs continue to go to Asia, we’re back to where we were two years ago” when there was global competition for LNG, one gas trader said.
A significant part of the price increase last year was due to buyers needing to drive Asian rivals out of the market. In early June, the market seemed to indicate that Europe would enough gas, at least for now. TTF fell to a two-year low, the level last seen before Russia began squeezing gas supplies to Europe ahead of its invasion of Ukraine.
That was on the back of EU gas storage – a key factor in meeting winter demand – which was already almost 70 percent full, about 20 percent above the previous five-year average for the period.
The low price acts as a disincentive for merchants to ship by sea LNG to Europe and seek other markets for greater profit margins. Traditionally, it was Asian countries such as Japan, China and South Korea that were the premium market for supercooled fuel before the European energy crisis.
“The market is perfectly balanced at the moment,” said Natasha Fielding, head of European gas prices at Argus Media. “It’s a puzzle whether Europe needs to cut LNG imports for the summer” or whether there will be a significant enough reduction in pipeline flows to the region, she said.
While Asian LNG demand has been muted so far this year, “the bottom line is that buyers from Northeast Asia such as Japan, China and South Korea will increase purchasing activity ahead of the winter heating season,” said Sam Reynolds, Asia LNG and Gas. conducts research at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “This could lead to increased global supply competition, which could ultimately lead to higher prices.”