Shipments of liquefied natural gas will decline from record levels as global economic growth weakens and energy consumers work through a glut, an industry group said.
LNG imports surged 13% to 354.7 million tons after production surged from new plants in the U.S., Russia and Australia, the French-based group known as GIIGNL said in an annual report. More projects to manufacture the fuel were approved in 2019, guaranteeing supply will keep rising.
“2019 was a record year for the LNG industry, both in terms of imported volumes and new investments decisions taken,” said Jean-Marie Dauger, president of GIIGNL. “In the near term, the disruptive impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the economies of importing countries will exert downward pressure on LNG demand in an already oversupplied market.”
The virus has slashed energy use as vast swaths of the economy were forced to close. That prompted some importers to reduce LNG shipments or defer them for later. A new wave of LNG projects has been cast in doubt by plunging gas prices.
The group hasn’t yet quantified the impact it expects on the industry. The following three charts show highlights of the industry’s expansion last year.
While the number of importing countries remained unchanged at 42, Europe stood out with a 76% increase in net purchases from a year earlier, helping absorb the glut.
Asia remained the leading consuming region, though its share of total imports fell to 69% from 76% in 2018. Shipments into all countries except the established markets of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan rose, though China’s growth slowed to 14% from 38% a year earlier.
The U.S. was the fastest-growing producer and Europe became its main market, taking 38% of its exports. Russia expanded its output with the Yamal LNG plant.
The chart below shows the U.S. moving to become the third-biggest exporter, while Qatar maintained its crown with a slight edge over Australia.
Trading and Shipping
U.S. supply helped further develop LNG trade. The nation became the biggest supplier of flexible fuel, accounting for a fifth of spot and short-term volumes.
Contracts with duration of less than four years accounted for 34% of total imports, up from 32% in 2018, GIIGNL said. Actual spot volumes, delivered within three months from a deal date, also marginally increased.
There were 601 LNG tankers as of the end of 2019, a net increase of 38 from a year earlier. The average spot charter rate for a 160,000 cubic meter vessel fell more than 20% in 2019 to $69,337 a day.