A U.S.-Iran conflict could impact gas markets much more than oil

By Stephen Stapczynski and Dan Murtaugh on 6/23/2019

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) -- A potential conflict between the U.S. and Iran could be far more disruptive for liquefied natural gas markets than to the world’s crude shipments.

About a quarter of the world’s LNG goes through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow sea conduit that borders Iran and through which tankers carrying about one-fifth of the world’s oil transit, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Major importers are also less prepared for LNG supply disruptions, because they hold a fraction of the inventories they do for oil.

Tehran has threatened in the past to halt fuel shipments through the vital passage. Tensions in the region are high after U.S. President Donald Trump approved and then later called off military strikes against Iran on Thursday night after Iranian forces shot down an American Navy drone over the strait.

“Whatever spike you get in oil, you will likely get twice the spike in spot LNG,” said David Hewitt, an oil and gas analyst at Macquarie Capital Ltd. “The market would be unable to” make up the full amount of shipments from the region if deliveries through the strait were halted, he said.

Most of Qatar’s gas shipments head to Asian nations and Japan, South Korea and India are among its top LNG buyers, according to the International Gas Union. Inventory levels and seasonal demand could also impact any disruption on global markets.

While most major importers don’t have as much storage for gas as they do for oil -- Japan had about 19 days of LNG imports on hand at the end of March versus enough oil in strategic reserves to cover 133 days of deliveries -- the startup of new export projects and mild weather have curbed LNG demand, leaving the market oversupplied.

Brent oil on Thursday jumped 4.3%, the most since January, after the U.S. drone was shot down and is now trading near $65/bbl. Benchmark LNG Japan/Korea Marker futures, which have hovered near a three-year low, gained 1.4% to $4.615/MMBtu the same day.

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