Journally Speaking: Dynamics of LNG contracts

Sept. 4, 2023
The landscape of the global LNG market is undergoing significant transformation, with latest projections from the IEA pointing towards intriguing shifts in contract dynamics over the next few years.

The landscape of the global LNG market is undergoing significant transformation, with latest projections from the International Energy Agency (IEA) pointing towards intriguing shifts in contract dynamics over the next few years.

The anticipated trajectory of active LNG contracts between 2022 and 2026 presents a noteworthy narrative of change. Projections of IEA in its Gas Market Report suggest that the cumulative volume of active contracts (including portfolio contracts) is on track to experience a moderate 10% increase. This, however, signals a marked slowdown compared to the robust expansion observed 2017-2021, when contracted volumes surged by 40%.

The tempered growth in active contracts can be attributed to multiple factors, the most prominent of which is the restrained addition of LNG liquefaction capacity from 2022 to 2025. This is a departure from previous years when significant capacity additions spurred contract growth. Another factor is Qatar’s approach of developing new liquefaction capacity without prearranged long-term contracts. This strategic shift indicates a certain level of confidence in the market’s ability to absorb the generated capacity without the need for extensive precommitments.

Analyzing the geographical distribution of contract activity provides further insight. North America emerges as a pivotal contributor to the upsurge in active contracts, with its contract volumes projected to increase 60% between 2022 and 2026, according to IEA. In stark contrast, regions like Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America are set to experience a contraction in active LNG contracts: declines of 17%, 7%, and a staggering 92% respectively upon contract expiry. This shift is poised to elevate North America’s share of the global active contracts arena to 26% by 2026 from 18% in 2022, per IEA’s forecasts.

Import trends, China’s ascension

On the import side, the Asia Pacific region remains a stronghold to 2026, maintaining a stable share of import contracts despite the market’s evolving dynamics. Notably, China is poised to emerge as a pivotal player in the LNG landscape, with projected import contract volumes surging by about 70% between 2022 and 2026, according to IEA. This anticipated growth solidifies China’s position as the leading holder of firm import contracts, reinforcing its commitment to diversifying its energy mix.

Conversely, there could be a gradual decline in contracted volumes destined for traditional Asian buyers, Japan and Korea. Furthermore, Europe’s LNG import contracts are projected to decrease by more than 20% by 2026 when compared with 2022 levels. This heightens the region’s vulnerability to the dynamics of the spot market.

Flexibility, liquidity

One striking trend is the growing proportion of destination-flexible volumes within primary LNG export contracts. According to IEA’s forecasts, this share is projected to rise to 58% by 2026 from 34% in 2016, as older destination-fixed contracts expire. The shift underscores a broader industry movement towards more flexible contractual structures, enhancing the adaptability and liquidity of the global LNG market over the medium term.

Nonetheless, intensifying competition for LNG between Europe and Asia could bolster the prominence of destination-specific contracts, potentially impacting the flexibility and liquidity of the global LNG market. Balancing these trends while ensuring optimal contract alignment with buyer and seller requirements remains a key concern.

Evolving dynamics of global LNG contracts paint a complex picture. While growth in active contracts is expected to moderate, strategic shifts, regional variations, and the shift towards more flexible contractual arrangements indicate the industry’s adaptability. As the LNG market continues to evolve, stakeholders must navigate the trends to ensure sustainable growth and stability in this vital sector of the energy industry.