If Saudi Arabia and Russia flood the world with their crude oil in the midst of a global demand crisis, it would have impacts and implications far beyond crude. A ramp-up in Saudi and Russian oil production this spring would also increase their output of associated gas and NGLs. At the same time, the opposite will be happening in the Permian and other liquids-rich U.S. shale plays, where producers, stunned by sub-$25/bbl oil prices, already are pulling back on drilling and later this year will see their oil and NGL production gradually level off and eventually decline. All this is already turning the international LPG market on its head — just last week, U.S. propane exports plummeted by nearly 40% versus the prior week, to only 889 Mb/d. Today, we consider recent extraordinary market developments and their effect on the arb between Mont Belvieu and Far East LPG prices.
Posts from Simon Hill
U.S. production and exports of propane have soared through the 2010s, and an increasing share of the propane loaded onto gas carriers at U.S. Gulf Coast terminals is headed to the Far East. The numbers are staggering. So far in 2019, 57% of propane produced from U.S. gas processing plants and refineries has been sent overseas, with about half of that total moving to Asian markets. With exports to Asia now such an integral piece of the propane supply/demand balance, the price of U.S. propane during most of the year is influenced more by the markets in Japan, South Korea and China than it is by demand in Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The challenge for U.S. propane marketers, producers and exporters is that, to the uninitiated, the Asia propane market is quite convoluted, being dominated by obscure market mechanisms known as FEI and Ginga. Today, we continue our series on international LPG trading with an explanation of how these mechanisms work together to establish propane prices in Asia and, by extension, the Gulf Coast.
In October, some 45 MMbbl of liquefied petroleum gases (LPGs) were loaded onto ships and sent out from U.S. ports, more than 80% of it from Texas Gulf Coast terminals. Most propane and normal butane exports are tied to long-term deals between U.S. suppliers and overseas buyers, but a substantial share involves third-party LPG traders who cut deals to buy LPG, arrange for shipping and terminaling, then sell the LPG to buyers in distant lands. How exactly does all this happen? Today, we continue a series on how U.S.-sourced LPG makes its way to Asia, Europe and other key export markets.
U.S. LPG export volumes have climbed to astronomical levels this year. Almost 60% of U.S. propane production, or about 1.3 MMb/d on average so far in 2019, along with a sizable volume of butane, is being shipped to overseas markets, mostly to Asia. As anyone who’s talked shop with an LPG trader knows, international trading of propane and butane (collectively LPGs — Liquified Petroleum Gas) is a wild, roller-coaster kind of business. But how exactly does it all work? How do the players involved acquire the volumes, cut the deals with export dock owners, arrange for shipping and sell the cargoes to buyers? And, most importantly, how do these shippers make money? Today, we begin a series on international LPG trading that looks behind the curtain and drills down into the nuances that make the difference between success and failure in this traditionally opaque world.