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China's July LNG imports rise 3% on year, drop 13% on month to 5 mil mt

Highlights

Lower Asian spot prices fail to encourage July LNG imports

High inventory, sluggish demand curb buying interest

Pipeline gas imports also drift lower in July

Singapore — China imported 5.03 million mt of LNG in July, up 3.1% year on year, but down 13.1% month on month, data released by the country's General Administration of Customs on Aug. 26 showed.

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Although the cost of spot LNG imported in July continued to fall, high inventory levels together with sluggish domestic demand dampened buying interest from some terminals, market sources said.

Platts JKM, the benchmark for spot LNG in Northeast Asia, averaged at $2.063/MMBtu over May 18-June 15, for July delivery cargoes on a DES basis, down 2.2% month on month, S&P Global Platts data showed. This was the lowest monthly average recorded since Platts started the assessment in February 2009.

However, the average cost of LNG imported by China in July, comprising both term and spot cargoes, was estimated to be around $6.6/MMBtu on a delivered basis, up 4.7% from $6.31/MMBtu a month earlier, Platts data showed.

This implies that Chinese importers likely reduced imports of lower-priced spot LNG cargoes in July, and made room for receiving the higher-priced contracted cargoes, market sources said.

Australia remained the top LNG supplier to China in July as well as in the first seven months of 2020, supplying around 2.43 million mt and 16.66 million mt, respectively.

The July volume was down 10% on the year, while the January-July volume was up 2.4% on the year, the data showed.

China's LNG imports from Qatar nearly doubled on the year and rose by 161.7% on the month to 698,564 mt in July.

However, LNG imports from the US dropped by 58.5% month on month to 141,228 mt in July, after hitting a 25-month high in June, while LNG imports from Indonesia plunged by 88.4% month on month in July, customs data showed.

Pipeline imports fall

China imported 2.31 million mt of natural gas via pipeline in July, down 23.2% on the year and down 9% on the month, the customs data showed.

The numbers defied market expectations as PetroChina sources said they had been pushing up pipeline gas imports since June.

China's pipeline gas imports have been declining since March due to uncompetitive prices compared with spot LNG prices.

Pipeline gas imports from Turkmenistan, the biggest supplier, were down 13.7% on the year, but rose by 4.2% on the month, the data showed.

However, pipeline gas imports from the second-biggest supplier, Kazakhstan, plunged by 97.5% on the year, and fell by 96.4% on the month to 13,023 mt in July, customs data showed.

Kazakhstan in March said it planned to cut natural gas supplies to China by 20%-25% in 2020, after PetroChina issued a force majeure notice on imports, Platts reported earlier.

However, the country's pipeline gas supplies to China rose by 11.2% on the year in the first half of 2020, data showed. The supply cut in July could be an action to fulfill its commitment made earlier, market sources said.

China's total natural gas imports were at 7.35 million mt in July, down 6.9% on the year, and 11.8% lower month on month.

Over January-July, China imported 55.71 million mt of natural gas via ships and pipelines, up 1.8% on the year, much slower than the year-on-year growth of 10.8% in the same period of last year, the data showed.