Minor delays without major impact
Importantly, the rise in y/y imports in February was by and large not due to delays originating in January. This does not mean there were no delays at all (presumably reduced staff at various terminals were a contributing factor) but where they occurred the affected vessels still arrived within the month they were supposed to. An isolated case of an inter-month delay was that of the Methane Patricia Camila, which arrived at Zhejiang LNG 4 days late on 3rd February.
Only two cargo diversions away from China
Since the coronavirus has hit international news, we have only seen two definitive diversions away from China, comprising the Beidou Star – ordinally scheduled to ship a QCLNG cargo to Tianjin – and the Marvel Pelican, which arrived but was then turned away from Zhejiang LNG on 13th February. However, these cargoes may well wait off South Korea and Singapore, respectively, until returning with their cargoes.
Whilst some vessels such as the LNG Jupiter – (currently idling off Taiwan) and the Nigerian LNG Abalamabie (waiting off Shanghai) have had to content with protracted delays, we do not currently see any other cargoes being diverted. Meanwhile, the Prachi, which had been waiting off Singapore, has now set course for Tianjin.
Anti-coronavirus measures have so far shown limited impact on LNG imports
Accordingly, the public health measures outlined above have had limited effect on LNG offtakes in February so far, despite an extension of national holidays and quarantines. Instead, we point to a relatively mild winter, high regional import capacity utilisation, rigid market structures in South Korea and Japan and lacking infrastructure in India and elsewhere as more pertinent factors in the regional price crash predicated by protracted supply growth.
Fear of force majeure likely overblown
Finally, a much-repeated concern has been that Chinese LNG buyers will declare force majeure, leaving numerous scheduled cargoes stranded, either to reduce exposure to excess supply or to take advantage of record-low spot prices. China’s International Trade Council even promised to provide applicants with force majeure certificates as a result of the coronavirus outbreak (though their usefulness in supporting a force majeure claim under international trade law may be limited). However, our evidence above does not support a rush to declare force majeure. Indeed, force majeure clauses tend to be restrictive due to their specificity, meaning they have to expressly address the factual circumstances of China’s coronavirus outbreak to be relied upon.