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Asian LNG prices stable but Russian rouble demand risk remains

Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices were relatively stable this week but there was risk to the upside due Russia’s threat to cut off supply to Europe unless payments are made in roubles.

The average LNG price for May delivery into north-east Asia LNG-AS was estimated at $35.00 per metric million British thermal units (mmBtu), unchanged from the previous week, industry sources said.

Prices had risen to $36.00/mmBtu earlier this week, they added.

In Asia, demand remained muted as buyers abstained from spot market purchases until there is more clarity on prices. But Japanese utilities were buying to replenish supplies following an earthquake on March 16.

Under Putin’s decree on Thursday, foreign buyers of Russian gas must open rouble accounts in Gazprombank from Friday so foreign currency can be converted to roubles.

“Despite the ongoing Ukraine-Russia crisis, Russian piped gas flows into Europe have risen in the year to date. At the same time, high gas prices have been attracting LNG imports into Europe, which have also increased year to date,” said Jamie Maddock, equity research analyst at Quilter Cheviot.

“Putin’s demand on Thursday, however, that gas contracts are to be settled in Roubles paid out of Russian bank accounts significantly complicates Europe’s aim to rebuild gas storage volumes ahead of winter and poses upside risk to LNG prices should European buyers refuse to comply,” he added.

The Kremlin has said it would not turn off gas exports to Europe from Friday as payments on deliveries due after April 1 come in the second half of this month and May.

Payment is often due on 20th of a month, so by three weeks there should be more clarity, a European gas trader said.

“If Putin turns off the gas it might only be for a relatively short period of time; he needs Europe’s money and cannot reroute all the natural gas. The big question is: how long can he do that before collapsing?” the trader added.

For Europe, an abrupt halt in supply would impact countries in different ways as some countries have access to LNG facilities and could replace part of the full volume, analysts at Rystad Energy said.

Eastern Europe could be the most affected due to the low availability of alternative sources and could be more exposed to energy blackouts.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Nina Chestney)

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