Birth of Another LNG Giant Shows Majors’ Edge Over Traders

Total SA’s billion-dollar deal to buy liquefied natural gas assets from Engie SA shows how much size matters in the industry.

After Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s takeover of BG Group Plc last year, industry consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. says the latest accord is evidence that the biggest energy companies with access to large volumes of diverse supplies will continue to dominate, even as commodity traders from Glencore Plc to Trafigura Group are expanding.

Trade in the $90 billion market for the superchilled gas is poised to double by 2040, underpinned by surging demand from Pakistan to China to generate power instead of burning dirtier coal. The biggest advantage integrated energy companies have is that they own the chain from gas fields to cooling terminals and giant ships crisscrossing the oceans.

“Because of their scale, scope and flexibility” such players are “best positioned to serve emerging market buyers with complex needs,” Frank Harris, vice president for LNG consulting at Wood Mackenzie in Edinburgh, said by email.

Since the Shell-BG deal, prices for fuel to Japan, the biggest consumer, fell to the lowest level since 2005. Rates have more than halved since a 2012 peak as a glut may linger until at least early next decade. Engie is exiting LNG to reduce its exposure to commodity price swings, focus on downstream gas operations, energy-efficiency services and renewables.

“Shell took BG at a time when market prices were very high,” Philippe Sauquet, head of Total’s gas, renewables and power business, said in an interview on Thursday in Paris. “We’re seizing the opportunity to grow at a time when prices are low. This is the right timing for us.”

While Japan, South Korea and China will remain the biggest buyers, suppliers are targeting new markets in Asia and the Middle East. Combined demand from emerging nations will surge to as much as 61 million tons a year by 2030 from about 3.2 million tons last year, or about 12 percent of the global market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“All eyes are on emerging players right now, all traders are looking at new markets that can be opened,” said Jean-Christian Heintz, who was in the LNG trading industry for nine years before founding Wideangle LNG, an industry consultant in Lugano, Switzerland. “The big advantage Total has is its upstream oil and gas position.”

The capital intensive nature of LNG also means international and national oil companies will dominate because they probably have an easier job financing multi-billion dollar projects than trading houses, said Claudio Steuer, director of SyEnergy Ltd., a Poole, England-based energy consultant.

With Engie’s assets and its own growth strategy, Total will double output, quadruple trading volumes and control as much as 10 percent of the market by 2020. That will give the company more credibility, Sauquet said.

Total will inherit some of Engie’s U.S. LNG supplies, which have flexibility such as where they can be delivered, BNEF’s analyst Maggie Kuang said in a note on Monday. And with more than 70 percent of the volumes uncontracted, selling that in an oversupplied market may be a challenge.

The French company will have a bigger impact on the expanding spot market, where cargoes are traded at short-term contracts rather than locked in decades-long deals, Kuang said.

Source: Bloomberg