* Spot below Russian contract price incentivised imports
* German gas shifted eastwards on weaker Italian demand
* Higher imports might last until end of August
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Natural gas imports into Ukraine from Slovakia rose to a four-month high of 37.7 million cu m/d August 19 on the back of falling spot prices at the Austrian and German gas hubs, in an effort to increase Ukraine storage injection rates ahead of winter, a Platts analysis showed.
Volumes from Slovakia have gained momentum since the second half of July -- interrupting a decline since the beginning of May -- rising by 23 million cu m/day to 37.7 million cu m/d July 14-August 19, equivalent to 96% of the capacity at the Budince entry point.
The increase in imports from Slovakia supported storage injection which rose by 16 million cu m/day to 49.2 million cu m/day in the same period.
If the current level of imports is maintained Ukraine storage inventories could reach 15.8 Bcm by October 15, about 0.8 Bcm short of the 16.6 Bcm "comfortable" level that a Ukraine official previously indicated and about 3 Bcm short of the 19 Bcm target initially planned.
ALL THE WAY FROM GERMANY
Platts analysis shows that weaker demand in Italy has incentivised the export of German gas to Ukraine via Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia away from export to Italy through the Transitgas pipeline.
Around two thirds of the increase in imports into Ukraine is matched by a corresponding rise in exports from Austria, with the remainder coming from Germany through the Czech Republic, Platts analysis shows.
Imports of gas from Austria to Slovakia at the entry point of Baumgarten rose by 14.6 million cu m/day to 17.6 million cu m/day in the period July 14 -August 17, showing an 88% correlation with exports from Slovakia into Ukraine on a daily basis, a Platts analysis of Entsog transparency platform data showed.
Austrian exports were supported by a 10 million cu m/day rise in imports from Germany, mainly at the entry point of Uberackern and to a lesser extent Oberkappel, according to data from Eclipe Energy, an analytics unit of Platts.
Imports of gas from the Czech Republic to Slovakia at the entry point of Lanzhot rose by 7 million cu m/day to 27.1 million cu m/day in the period July 14-August 18, Eclipse Energy data showed.
The rise in transit flows through the Czech republic to Slovakia was mirrored by a rise in exports from Germany into the Czech Republic, which rose in the same period by 9 million cu m/day, showing a 97% correlation on a daily basis with Czech exports to Slovakia.
At the same time, the day-ahead price assessment at the German and Austrian gas hubs fell amid a fall in domestic demand and weaker export pull from the Italian market.
The fall in the day-ahead price at German and Austrian hubs provided a strong incentive to Ukraine to import gas from the EU as the hub price fell below the contract price for Q3 offered by Russia's Gazprom to Ukraine's Naftogaz in the last meeting held in Vienna at the end of June, which was equivalent to Eur 21.1/MWh.
Platts assessment at the NetConnect Germany hub for day-ahead delivery July 14-August 19 fell Eur1.65/MWh or 8% to Eur19.575/MWh, while the corresponding Platts assessment at VTP Austria fell Eur1.3/MWh or 6% to Eur20.4/MWh.
Italian demand was down in the same period by 45 million cu m/day due to the holiday period and falling temperatures leading to a reduction in end-user demand, with a 27 million cu m/day reduction in gas demand for power generation.
Weaker Italian demand shrank the need for gas from Northwest Europe through the Transitgas pipeline which dropped flow to Italy by 34 million cu m/day, with about two thirds of the reduction at the German exit point of Wallbach and the remainder at the French exit point of Oltingue.
The analysis showed that gas exports from Austria to Slovakia and then to Ukraine might continue until the end of the month as firm booked capacity at the exit point of Baumgarten is at 17.8 million cu/m day until the end of August, providing an incentive to capacity holders to use it before it falls to 6.8 million cu/m day in September, data from Entsog showed.