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Goldman sees LNG as biggest commodity after crude this year

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Global trade in liquefied natural gas will exceed US$120 billion this year, taking it past iron ore as the most valuable commodity after oil, Goldman Sachs Group Inc said.

[SINGAPORE] Global trade in liquefied natural gas will exceed US$120 billion this year, taking it past iron ore as the most valuable commodity after oil, Goldman Sachs Group Inc said.

Competition will increase because the spot market is expanding and buyers are less reliant on long-term contracts, analysts including Jeff Currie in New York wrote in an e-mailed report on Thursday. The US will supply more LNG in the next several years, giving Asia, the biggest consuming region, more bargaining power, the analysts said.

About 73 per cent of global LNG is sold under long-term contracts generally linked to oil with a time lag of as long as nine months, Most of the rest is sold as spot cargoes in Asia, where prices fell 55 per cent in the past year. LNG trade will grow at an average annual rate of 5.1 per cent from 2014 to 2025 as production starts from the US to Australia and new markets emerge in Asia, the Middle East and the Baltic region, BG Group Plc, which has a fleet of about 25 LNG carriers, said Wednesday.

"As contract and spot prices diverge, oil-indexation will continue to lose its appeal," Goldman said. "There is a window for LNG to grow and become a normal commodity that is priced according to its own fundamentals rather than those of different, if related, commodities."

LNG contracts have traditionally been linked to oil prices, such as Brent or the Japan Crude Cocktail that represents various grades the country buys. As oil rises or drops, so does the price of delivered cargoes. By contrast, supplies from the US will be tied to benchmark natural gas prices at Henry Hub in Louisiana.

Spot prices for LNG delivered to Asia will fall to US$6.25 per million British thermal units in the third quarter of 2015, and rise to US$7 next year, according to Goldman. They slid 45 per cent in 2014 as benchmark crude prices slumped amid a supply glut in the oil market, and were at US$7.60 on March 2, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from New York-based Energy Intelligence Group.

The market will require spot prices to remain at a significant discount to oil-indexed contracts as new projects begin operation, Goldman said in the report.

Planned liquefaction capacity increases in Australia and the US will outpace demand growth of 5 per cent a year and keep global utilization rates below the recent average, even as the long-term outlook remains positive, according to Goldman.

"In order to balance the market, LNG prices will have to decline further post 2016 until they can challenge thermal coal in the fuel mix of the power sector, with Europe playing the role of the swing consumer and the US as the marginal supplier in the Atlantic basin," the analysts wrote in the report.

BLOOMBERG