Natural gas prices tumble to historic lows as one energy CEO quips: ‘Send me an ice blizzard’
The chief executive of Austrian energy firm OMV has quipped that he needs a bout of extreme cold weather to boost profits at a time of historically low natural gas prices.
“Honestly speaking, if I have one wish for free, please send me an ice blizzard for the gas prices,” Rainer Seele, CEO of OMV, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday.
His comments came shortly after the oil and gas group conceded lower commodity prices had squeezed profits in the final three months of 2019, reflecting an industry-wide trend.
Natural gas prices traded at around $1.86 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) on Friday, up around 0.1% on the session. The commodity is almost 30% below where it traded a year earlier — and down nearly 15% since the start of 2020.
In Asia, the benchmark Japan-Korea-Marker (JKM) spot price for liquefied natural gas (LNG) closed at an all-time low of $3.00 MMBtu for the second consecutive session on Thursday, according to data provided by S&P Global Platts.
The price reporting agency said the JKM spot price had fallen dramatically since the start of the year, following significant pressure due to high stocks globally, a warmer-than-average winter in North Asia and a continued rapid supply build — especially from new projects on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Disruption and curtailment fears in China as a result of the fast-spreading coronavirus has also compounded the pressure on LNG prices, S&P Global Platts said, with China’s biggest importer of LNG declaring force majeure on some contracts on Thursday.
China’s National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) announced it had suspended contracts with at least three suppliers on Thursday, Reuters reported, citing two unnamed sources.
Analysts said the move was likely to further dim China’s demand outlook and raised concerns about its impact on global trade flows and prices. China is the world’s second-largest importer of LNG.
“The coronavirus outbreak is not fundamentally changing the direction of the LNG market. It was already weak and heading in this direction,” Ira Joseph, global head of power and gas analytics at S&P Global Platts, said in a research note.
Joseph added that S&P Global Platts had predicted $3 JKM prices would emerge this year, with the coronavirus outbreak seen acting as a catalyst for this historic price collapse “and creating conditions for it to last longer.”
‘We need a reaction from OPEC’
China’s National Health Commission on Friday confirmed 31,161 cases of the pneumonia-like virus in the country, with 636 deaths.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported nearly 200 cases of the coronavirus in at least 23 countries outside of China. The WHO has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
“The market is impacted, of course, and heavily infected by the coronavirus and all traders need more than an aspirin to get a better outlook,” OMV’s Seele said.
“I think we need more than aspirin, we need a reaction from OPEC,” he added.
Seele said part of the reason an OPEC response is necessary was because the coronavirus could take out roughly 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from China during the first quarter.