Bright Spot in Shipping: LNG Carriers (TGP, GLNG, APA, ECA, EOG)

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Day rates for shippers of container, crude oil, and dry bulk cargoes have been hit hard this year as an over-supply of vessels and general concerns about the weak global economies have lowered demand for ships. One area where day rates are rising, however, is in transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). And that’s mainly down to Japan, where the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had raised demand for an alternative source of energy for generating electricity.

Unlike the over-supply in other shipping markets, LNG vessels are in short supply and carriers like Teekay LNG Partners LP (NYSE: TGP) and Golar LNG Ltd. (NASDAQ: GLNG) are reaping the rewards. The global fleet for LNG carriers totals just 364 vessels. Day rates have risen above $100,000 and Golar is thought to be concluding a deal at $120,000. By 2013, the day rate could be as high $140,000.

These are the highest day rates since 2006, and are due to the fact that 90% of the LNG fleet is contracted on long-term deals that leave only a relative handful of vessels available for spot shipments. LNG cargoes headed for Europe have been redirected to Asia, where LNG prices are higher, increasing the amount of time the LNG carriers are hauling a single cargo.

Much of the LNG is coming from Qatar and is going to Japan. Before the earthquake and tsunami this past Spring, Japan consumed about 70 million tons of LNG annually. That number is expected to rise to 85 million tons in 2011 and 90 million tons in 2012. Qatar’s exports are soon expected to reach 120 million metric tons annually.

Until the recent US boom in shale gas extraction, the US was expected to be an importer of LNG and several receiving terminals had been proposed. Now, Cheniere Energy, Inc. (AMEX: LNG) and its subsidiary Cheniere Energy Partners LP (AMEX: CQP) have been approved to build a liquefaction facility at the Sabine Pass LNG receiving terminal, but that project is still a few years away. A proposed receiving terminal in Oregon has also begun the process of getting federal approval to export LNG.

The Kitimat LNG facility in British Columbia is another proposed LNG export terminal owned by Apache Corp. (NYSE: APA) with 40% and Encana Corp. (NYSE: ECA) and the Canadian arm of EOG Resources Inc. (NYSE: EOG), each with 30%. The feedstock will come from Apache and EOG fields in Canada. Initial annual capacity of five million metric tons is due in 2013.

The LNG carrier market could be constrained into 2013. New orders for LNG vessels totaled just 5 in 2010, compared with 45 so far this year. Vessels ordered this year are expected to be delivered in 2014-2015, but all may not be built.

The other impact on LNG carriers could come from new Pacific Rim facilities that will be closer to the Asian markets and lower demand for the long-haul trips from Europe and Africa.

For now, though, the outlook is strong for LNG carriers. Teekay has been only a bit better than flat for the past 12 months, but Golar shares are up more than 150%, though about 20% off of 52-week highs.

Paul Ausick

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