Much of the attention in energy markets has been focused on OPEC and oil prices lately. But news this week suggests that a different energy commodity is quietly becoming the hottest story going worldwide.
That’s natural gas. With the world’s top importing nation — Japan — saying this week it’s about to embark on a major spending spree in the sector.
Japanese press reported over the weekend that government agencies are about to launch a major funding program for international natgas projects — specifically aimed at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector. With the government planning to make a full $10 billion available for investment.
Those dollars will reportedly come from Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Nippon Export and Investment Insurance. With targets being LNG receiving terminals as well as associated power plant facilities.
Here’s the most intriguing part: Japanese papers said the program will be aimed entirely at LNG projects in Asia. With the stated goal to “build markets in Asia for U.S. LNG”.
At first glance, it seems odd the Japanese government would be spending its own money to help America gain LNG market share. But there may be a more-selfish reason here: namely, to facilitate increased shipments of U.S. LNG into the Asian sphere, making it easier and cheaper for Japanese buyers to grab a piece of the growing supply.
It will be interesting to see how specific deals are structured in regards to this funding. But it’s likely that Japanese backers will look to take direct stakes in facilities they support — in order to have direct control of LNG flows around Asia.
The move comes at a critical time for Asian natural gas markets. With China’s CNPC this week announcing it has commissioned a third pipeline bringing LNG-sourced natgas into Shanghai — showing that competition for natgas supply is growing throughout this critical consuming region.
Watch for an official announcement on the Japanese investment program, said to be coming Wednesday. And for specific project details to follow, which should shed light on Japan’s master plan for Asia supply.
Here’s to building it so they can come.