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Norway ups 2018 gas export price assumption, slashes 2019 forecast on LNG

London — Norway has raised its assumption for gas export prices in 2018 by 11% but hasslashed its price assumption for 2019, suggesting Norway will look to max outgas supplies to Europe this year.

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With the expectation that Europe will see a significant rise in LNG deliveriesnext year given the startup of a number of new projects globally, Norway couldbe seen to look to make the most of the opportunities offered by this year'sstrong rally in the gas market.

According to the revised Norwegian budget published this week, Oslo nowexpects Norwegian gas export prices to average NOK1.80/cu m (Eur16.89/MWh)this year, up from NOK1.62/cu m assumed in the first 2018 budget approved byNorway's parliament towards the end of last year.

The uplift in the assumption is a result of the price strength across Europeangas markets in recent months, buoyed by cold weather, tighter marketfundamentals and the rising oil price which broke the $80/b mark on Thursday.

The new assumption is still relatively conservative versus the averageday-ahead TTF price so far this year of Eur20.70/MWh, according to S&P GlobalPlatts data, but is well above what Norway expects for next year.

In the revised budget, it said higher LNG supplies to Europe would impactNorway's export price in 2019.

A number of new LNG supply projects are due online over the remainder of 2018and in 2019 -- especially in the US and Australia -- which is expected to leadto a surplus of LNG.

Europe often acts as a "market of last resort" for excess LNG cargoes as it isable to absorb the surplus LNG into its liquid hubs in Northwest Europe.

"Europe's increased access to LNG next year is expected to contribute to adecline in [Norwegian] gas prices to just under NOK1.50/cu m (Eur14.07/MWh),"it said.

"In 2020, gas prices are expected to go down again due to increased offer ofLNG," it said.

EXPORT INCENTIVE

Given these prices, Norwegian operators have an incentive to produce as muchgas in 2018 and not hold back any production for next year.

Norway's dominant gas producer, state-controlled Equinor (previously Statoil),will typically optimize gas output from the Troll and Oseberg fields,producing more during high-price environments and leaving it in the groundwhen the price is lower.

Equinor CEO Eldar Saetre said in February it was sticking with its "flexible"gas production strategy at Troll and Oseberg despite growing demand forNorwegian gas in Europe.

Equinor has a Troll production permit for the current gas year -- whichstarted on October 1 -- of 36 Bcm, making it Europe's biggest gas producer bysome distance.

Analysts at S&P Global Platts Analytics expect Troll production to be maxedout for the remainder of the year given current prices.

The TTF contracts for delivery in June, July and Q3 were all assessed atEur22.235/MWh on Thursday by Platts, considerably up on the Summer 19 contractassessment of Eur20.20/MWh.

One issue facing Equinor, though, is it has to manage its "Troll Bank" -- theamount it over- or under-produces relative to the Troll permit.

Production from Troll -- which for the purposes of the permit has a grosscalorific value of 40 MJ/cu m -- can exceed allowable levels on an annualizedbasis but overproduction must be paid back within three years.

This would see Troll output effectively capped at 35 Bcm in Gas Year 17.

LONGER-TERM PRICES

In its revised budget, the Norwegian government said it expected prices torise again into the 2020s.

From 2025, it expects a long-term price of NOK1.90/cu m (Eur17.82/MWh) on anoil price assumption of around $65/b.

Norway expects its gas sales this year to total 121.2 Bcm, a dip from 2017'srecord of 122 Bcm, but activity on the Norwegian Continental Shelf remainshigh with gas exports set to rebound again to reach a new all-time high of123.1 Bcm by 2022.

"Gas production in the next few years seems to be likely to be somewhat higherthan previously expected," the government said.

According to Norwegian Petroleum Directorate estimates, production is expectedto be 121.4 Bcm in 2019, 122 Bcm in 2020, 122.7 Bcm in 2021 and 123.1 Bcm in2022.

In the revised budget, Oslo said production is set to peak in 2023, beforegradually going down thereafter.

--Stuart Elliott, Stuart.Elliott@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jeremy Lovell, newsdesk@spglobal.com