Low oil dampens LNG outlook

AUSTRALIA's ramp up of LNG production – especially from Queensland – would see it challenge world leader Qatar as the world's largest exporter by as early as 2018 as a massive investment in construction kicks in, according to the ANZ report Australia's gas industry: when markets collide.

This is an improvement on previous industry estimates which believed Australia would rival Qatar by 2020.

But going forward, the industry productivity levels and development rates may be hampered by road blocks in New South Wales where a moratorium on CSG development now exists because of the pressure from the farming and environmental lobbies.

"The long term global outlook for LNG is strong," ANZ senior commodity strategist Daniel Hynes said.

"We expect international prices to increase over the next five years due largely to the rise of Asia, where clean energy demand and overall increases in energy consumption are outstripping supply."

The report predicts rising international gas prices over this period due to increasing LNG usage in Asia, which ANZ estimates could grow by over 40% in the next decade on rising clean energy demand and consumption increases.

By 2018, Australia well and truly be in the same league at Qatar exporting in the vicinity of 90mmtpa compared with the 30MMtpa it produces today.

More than $US200 billion of investment in Australian LNG projects since 2010 has already seen capacity more than double in last 10 years.

LNG exports should rise from $18 billion in 2014 to $50 billion in 2020 and lift the trade balance by 2.5%, according to ANZ economist Felicity Emmett.

ANZ expects LNG will overtake iron ore as the key driver in Australia's exports by the end of 2016, with long-lasting benefits for the Australian economy including higher taxation receipts, petroleum resource rent taxes and state royalties. Australian shareholders will also benefit from higher dividend payments from LNG companies.

But the short term picture is not so rosy.

Over the next six months, international LNG prices could fall as low as $US7/million British thermal units due to weaker demand from importers Japan and South Korea, as nuclear reactors come back on line in these countries.

Also, the attraction of lower oil prices drawing energy market share away from gas and strong growth in supply from the Pacific Basin as a result of various LNG projects beginning to export gas will put a dampener on the short term outlook.

The benefits to the Australian economy of this ramp-up and the opening up of the domestic market to international pricing over the next three years will be significant but there will be downsides - especially to industry sectors reliant on the supply of cheap gas.

The LNG construction phase is labour intensive but once it reaches the production phase, employments level drop drastically. The ratio of construction to production in employees is expected to be 7-1 in Queensland and 10-1 in Western Australia.

"There will be a large contribution to GDP growth but not a large increase in income growth," Emmett said.

While there will be significant royalties and taxes, 90% of the LNG companies are foreign owned.

Domestic wholesale prices could double over the next two years, and ambitious export commitments from new projects could strain domestic supply according to ANZ.

That would translate into a 30% increase in Australian household bills, with Queensland the most exposed.

ANZ believes there is a high probability of a tight domestic market. A supply deficit in the domestic market would develop as result of the surging demand from exporters.

The demand would be driven by a lack of reserves available to LNG terminals on the east coast.

Prices would have to rise above international benchmarks to induce investment to domestic resources.

This would add 0.05% to the country's CPI and reduce the gross profit margins of industries such as chemical products from 42.9% to 37.9% and utilities from 40.7% to 32.3%.

"If Australia's major gas consuming industrial companies took no action to prepare for the cost impact of our base case tight gas market scenario, within five years aggregate profitability across the companies may decline by 19%; return on equity could nearly halve; and total debt to EBITDA leverage could rise by 31%," ANZ said.

Hynes said there should be a period of volatility as the new international pricing comes into effect.

"Current low LNG prices and regulatory concerns around coal seam gas are curbing the development of additional capacity, potentially exacerbating a supply shortage," according to ANZ.

The growing demand should ensure that Australia remains a key supplier despite the switch to renewables, Hynes said.