It’s that time of year again when the sellers and buyers of many of the world’s long-term liquefied natural gas (LNG) sales and purchase agreements (SPAs) must agree on the Annual Delivery Programme (ADP). In past years, this has typically been a mildly contentious process where both parties’ operations teams discuss, haggle and settle on an LNG delivery programme that roughly meets both parties’ needs. The discussions are framed by the terms of the applicable SPA but guided by cooperation and the goodwill generally found in long-term buyer-seller LNG relationships. Lawyers tend not to be involved. However, this is not the case this year.
With a global gas/LNG shortage and spot prices reaching record highs, there is a huge discrepancy between long-term LNG and spot LNG prices. At the time of drafting this article, Platts JKM is quoted at US$ 33.85 / MMBtu and Title Transfer Facility (TTF) is quoted at US$ 32.15/ MMBtu for January 2022 delivery. However, a long-term LNG SPA at a relatively good LNG price of 13.5% Brent would be at US$11.34/MMBtu with Brent at US$ 84/ bbl. An approximate US$ 20 / MMBtu difference or, for a mid-range LNG cargo size of 3,800,000 MMBtu, a US$76 million difference per cargo.
With this level of price difference, every cargo is vital. For sellers, any cargo that can be delivered spot rather than under a term SPA can provide significantly greater profits, and the converse is true for buyers. Many LNG buyers have recently adopted a strategy of buying a significant proportion of their LNG demand on a term basis but with spot purchases covering demand growth and swing. For these buyers, ensuring as many of their (currently lower priced) term cargoes arrive during the high demand, high cost winter months with lower price summer spot purchases making up any annual demand shortfall can significantly reduce their weighted average LNG purchase price.
The early long-term SPAs were developed for a point-to-point trade, often with a fleet of ships sailing continuously between a loading terminal and one or two particular receiving terminals serving a single SPA. Discussions on an ADP were relatively simple with both parties strongly incentivised to align delivery windows to reduce shipping and demurrage costs and ensure sufficient LNG supplies. But if the parties could not agree on a delivery programme, typically the seller had the final say.
However, the LNG industry has changed significantly since those early days, particularly with the advent of portfolio traders, diversion clauses (with or without profit sharing elements), upward and downward quantity tolerance and, most importantly, the spot market: all driving a more flexible, efficient and commercial LNG market. As the LNG market has developed, so has the drafting of the ADP provisions, with buyers increasingly wanting to set firmer delivery windows and have stronger rights for Upward Quantity Tolerance (UQT), Make-up and Make-Good cargoes.
So how does the gulf between spot and term prices and the development of LNG SPAs impact the ongoing ADP discussions? Instead of coordinated [...]