Continuing low gas prices, the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and continuing uncertainty about a cluster of market factors have turned 2020 into a never-ending slump for liquefied natural gas (LNG) project developers, despite their earlier hopes for a breakout year.
The year may end with no new projects in the United States receiving investor approval, or in financial jargon, “commercial sanction”, S&P Global Market Intelligence reports, in a story republished by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). “Worldwide, there could be just one LNG export project that advances to that stage in 2020, with Sempra Energy’s recent decision to greenlight its Energía Costa Azul terminal in Baja California,” Mexico.
“As far as a lot of the big projects that require third-party capital, I just don’t see that being available in the foreseeable future,” Katie Bays, managing director at FiscalNote Markets, told S&P. “I think that’s out of step with what some companies are saying publicly,” but “if you were to step back and look at the state of the industry and ask, ‘Are these companies in a better position than they were two years ago?’—the answer has got to be ‘No.’”
“Weak global demand and market conditions have stalled the second wave of LNG projects, and very few projects will take FID [final investment decisions] without a sustained price recovery,” RBN Energy President David Braziel told an event earlier this month.
S&P says the industry is pinning its hopes for a recovery on easing trade tensions between the incoming Biden administration and China, and increasing supply of raw material to six existing LNG export terminals in the U.S. They say global LNG demand “has also rebounded significantly from the summer doldrums”, and hold out hope for China to become the fuel’s biggest importer—by the end of the decade.
But even if the companies are talking up the stock, same as they always do, their customers may be thinking differently.
“Significant uncertainty remains over what the export dynamics will look like after the peak winter heating season,” S&P writes. “Rising coronavirus infection rates threaten to hamper commercial and industrial gas demand. Even with the announced project delays, questions linger about how long the global gas market will take to rebalance after the economic and health crisis. Developers continue to struggle to sign sufficient long-term supply deals with LNG buyers to secure project financing.”