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'A contract is a contract,' Cheniere CEO says after report of wavering LNG buyer

After an Indian news outlet reported that GAIL (India) Ltd. is looking to renegotiate the terms of its 20-year contract for LNG from Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana, Cheniere CEO Jack Fusco said he expects customers to hold up their end of the bargain.

"Cheniere intends to meet all of our contractual obligations. We intend to meet all of our commitments ... with our regulators, our stakeholders, our shareholders," Fusco said on an Aug. 8 earnings call. "And in return, we expect our customers to meet all of their obligations and their commitments to Cheniere."

Citing a person familiar with the matter, the Press Trust of India reported Aug. 8 that the state-owned GAIL is seeking to reopen its 2011 sales and purchase agreement for roughly 3.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG from the fourth liquefaction train at Cheniere's Sabine Pass. Train 4 produced its first LNG in July, and executives said during the call that the first commissioning cargo is expected "this week."

When asked whether Cheniere heard about GAIL's reported interest in renegotiating its contract through the company or via the media, Fusco responded by saying he talks to customers "all the time."

"A contract is a contract, and that's been our position with all of our customers," he said.

Cheniere and GAIL announced the contract in December 2011. Under the agreement, GAIL would purchase LNG on a freight-on-board basis for a purchase price indexed to the monthly Henry Hub price plus a fixed liquefaction fee. The Indian company has the option to take bridge volumes from train 2, which reached substantial completion in September 2016.

Cheniere has repeatedly pointed to India as a major source of future LNG demand. From February 2016 to May 2017, roughly 24 Bcf of LNG went to India, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

"We do think that India is a rapidly growing market," Cheniere Chief Commercial Officer Anatol Feygin said in response to an analyst's question about GAIL's reported interest in renegotiating its contract. "It has made the right decisions and investments to increase the gas portion of its energy mix, and we think U.S. and Sabine Pass LNG will be a key contributor."

In addition to policy changes in India, shifting dynamics in other countries and in the U.S. are likely to free up room for more LNG exports, Feygin said. A diplomatic rift with Qatar, the world's top LNG exporter, as well as the Australian government's plans to limit shipments, could lead buyers to look to the U.S. Policies that promote natural gas over coal and nuclear power, such as those in China and South Korea, should grow overall demand for LNG, he said.

When asked whether Qatar Petroleum's plans to increase its output of LNG by 30% over the next five to seven years will affect Cheniere's ability to sign additional long-term contracts, Feygin said he thinks growing demand will largely offset the additional supply from Qatar.

"We think they're a credible competitor, and we think the market will be able to absorb their volumes and ours as they continue to grow," he said.

Cheniere has exported more than 160 cargoes of LNG, 91 of which were shipped in the first half of 2017. LNG from Sabine Pass has now made it to 24 of the 40 countries that import LNG, according to the company.

Earlier in the day, Cheniere reported a second-quarter net loss attributable to common stockholders of $285 million, or $1.23 per share, compared to a loss of $298 million, or $1.31 per share, in the year-ago quarter. The company's consolidated adjusted EBITDA rose to $371 million from a loss of $4 million in the prior-year period.