Why are LNG shipping stocks resilient?
FSRU focused stocks are key beneficiaries
Companies with FSRU exposure have particularly benefited as European countries are opting for FSRUs over their land-based counterparts. FSRU terminals can be installed in one-two years compared to three years for LNG import terminals. Golar LNG’s share price has profited from its exposure to FSRU, the company’s stake in New Fortress Energy (NFE – a leading FSRU player) and high crude oil prices. Amid a buoyant FSRU market, Golar LNG has entered into a contract with Snam to sell its 19-year-old LNG vessel Golar Arctic for USD 287.9mn (EUR 269mn) as an FSRU after conversion. The company has also signed an agreement with Snam to sell Golar Tundra FSRU for USD 350mn. NFE, which has a fleet of seven FSRUs and in which Golar LNG has a stake of 6%, has gained 68.5% YTD.
FSRUs are in high demand with Europe seeking at least 16 FSRUs to replace most of the Russian gas imports. We believe countries like Germany, France and Italy are willing to pay a high premium to acquire the assets, but with only 50 FSRUs (as of March 2022) in operation globally, the demand for FSRU providers has strengthened.
Buoyant market drives new charter wins
The upcoming EEXI and CII regulations and charters’ desire to secure LNG ships amid the geopolitical tensions are other factors driving LNG shipping demand. Flex LNG has won fixed charter for 12 vessels since March 2021, suggesting strong demand for its young fleet, with three of these charter wins in June 2022. Latest charter wins announced in June 2022 extend between seven and ten years, longer than most of the company’s existing charters and suggest increasing preference of charterers to go for longer term charter. Nakilat announced during its 4Q21 results that it has won the term-charter for all the four newbuild vessels delivered between 2Q20 and 1Q22.
LNG shipping prospects
The Russia-Ukraine war has brought the energy sector to the center stage with more focus on the LNG industry as Europe tries to wean away from Russian LNG imports and is ramping up its LNG import facilities by investing in FSRUs. As the coming years should see more FID for LNG liquefaction projects, leading to higher demand for LNG ships, we expect spot and long-term LNG shipping rates to firm up. LNG shipping companies stand to benefit from this high charter rate environment. Expectations of tight LNG supply and European geopolitical tensions is accelerating sale and purchase agreements for LNG and in turn, FIDs for new LNG projects. Charterers are preferring long-term charter to cover volatility in a tight supply market. While new order momentum is high in 2022 YTD with close to 100 LNG ship orders, we expect LNG shipping rates to continue to rise as most of the new orders have firm charter.
Upcoming EEXI and CII regulations to support LNG freight rates
As EEXI and CII regulations come into effect from 1 January 2023, we expect an increase in conversion activity of older stream turbine vessels into FSU for import projects as we believe these vessels will be more impacted by the new regulations. While these vessels will need to reduce their speed to comply with the regulations, the very old vessels will become unviable and will exit the fleet, affecting capacity and consequently supporting higher freight rates.
More borrowing capacity with a healthier balance sheet
LNG shipping companies have a healthier balance sheet at the end of 1Q22 compared to 4Q20. Furthermore, an increase in LNG vessel prices since mid-2020 indicates higher borrowings potential which can be used to acquire new vessels. Given the strong prospects, it is comparatively easier now to win a long-term charter compared to the previous two years.
We expect earnings of LNG shipping companies to benefit from positive LNG shipping prospects in the coming quarters. Given the tight LNG shipping prospects and LNG stocks’ resilience thus far, we believe investors can consider adding LNG shipping stocks to their portfolio. We prefer companies with solid revenues, young fleet and healthy balance sheet.