With liquefied natural gas, it’s time to bury old myths and embrace the new reality

Global interest in cleaner fuels is helping to increase the demand for liquefied natural gas.

Commodities are rarely associated with explosive consumption growth. While the rise of China challenged this notion, the best days of the super-cycle in materials are clearly behind us. For example, over the past three years the world’s consumption of copper rose just 0.6% per annum, and it is unlikely to expand much beyond this rate. However, there is one commodity which we are excited about for the next 10 years, one where the super-cycle has only recently announced itself  ̶  liquefied natural gas (LNG). The LNG market has been in the doldrums for some time. Between 2011 and 2016, total global consumption rose by just 17 million tons. But over the course of 2017 and 2018, demand skyrocketed by 63 million tons. The size of the global LNG market stood at 320 million tons last year, and we expect it to roughly double by the end of the next decade.

Exhibit 1: Demand for LNG has skyrocketed, and it could continue to soar

Sources: BP (historical), Invesco (forecasts), HSBC, data acquired on 11/04/2019

Two major structural shifts are happening at the moment: the globalization of natural gas – traditionally a local or, at best, regional commodity – and the political will in China and elsewhere in Asia to secure affordable, reliable, and clean energy. Natural gas has long been viewed as the “fuel of choice,” a privilege confined either to producing countries like Russia and the United States, or to the domain of the economically developed, like Europe or Japan. This old world view is now collapsing. Earlier last year, China became the largest importer of natural gas, overtaking Japan. LNG specifically is becoming the “fuel of necessity,” and the growth from here will be driven by China, other Asia ex-Japan countries, and eventually India. Our meetings with policymakers in China reconfirmed this outlook: fostering a healthy environment is being viewed as critical to maintaining social stability, and nurturing gas consumption, as well as finding substitution for low quality, are integral to both.

The supply-side is shifting as well. Qatar, which accounted for nearly a third of the market in 2016, will likely be temporarily overtaken by Australia next year. The United States, irrelevant on the LNG map until three years ago, could account for one-sixth of global LNG production as soon as 2020. Finally, Russia will challenge all three contenders for the LNG throne, securing at least one-tenth of the market by the middle of the next decade, and a credible chance to become the “next Qatar” in the long run.

Exhibit 2: Russia and the U.S. could emerge as much more prominent LNG suppliers

Sources: Poten and Partners, BP (historical), Invesco (forecasts), HSBC, data acquired on 11/04/2019

The narrative becomes much more powerful considering that the LNG market may begin tightening in 2020 and could move into deficit early in the next decade. We believe the world will need more liquefied gas than is currently being sanctioned by the energy companies, which under-invested in LNG during the oil price debacle of 2014-2016. The energy companies lack a sufficient quantity of viable projects and are using their cash flow to channel dividends to their still wounded shareholders rather than invest.

Exhibit 3: Within four years, global demand could begin to exceed supply  

Sources: Invesco, HSBC , data acquired on 11/04/2019. BCM is a billion cubic meters.

So, the race is on. The question is how to invest in such a powerful and structurally durable theme in an emerging market context? This is where the challenges begin. First, it is hard to find pure exposure outside of the United States. (It can now be found mainly with the tolling companies rather than with the integrated gas producers.) Second, the credibility of the major energy companies is extremely low. Wood Mackenzie, one of the leading research and consulting firms for the energy industry, recently estimated that during the last decade, “The 15 largest offshore projects were late and collectively $80 billion over budget.” Finally, we remain highly skeptical of the risk-reward profile in the next generation LNG provinces such as Mozambique.

Hence our approach to investing in commodity companies is really no different from our approach with any other sector. We look for companies with a unique and scalable asset base, management/owners who are culturally inclined to consistently create value, and stock valuations that, for some temporary reasons, reflect neither of these strengths. Our search has been global, but we believe one of the most promising opportunities is Novatek, a Russian-listed private gas company. While the entire industry was suffering from a lack of capital discipline, Novatek launched its first and the world’s largest (non-government owned) LNG project – Yamal LNG – at the end of 2017. It did so on time, on budget, and in the harshest environmental conditions imaginable (the Russian Arctic). It is estimated that it will be bigger in size than the infamous Australian Gorgon (Chevron) and built with less than half of the price tag.

Exhibit 4: Novatek’s earnings have far exceeded the industry average

Sources: Novatek, Bloomberg L.P., Invesco, data acquired on 11/04/2019. EBITDA is earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization.

Many of the firm’s future projects, in our view, will enhance its strengths. Novatek’s long-term strategy is to increase its LNG production capacity target to 70 million tons per year by 2030, up from a previous target of 57 million. Hence we were not surprised last year when the French oil and gas company Total SA had acquired a stake in its second future project (Arctic LNG-2) at a valuation of more than half of Novatek’s market capitalization. In May this year, Novatek announced that its third major LNG plant in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District will be launched in 2022 (Obsky LNG). Given the Russian government’s focus on developing LNG, and what we perceive as Novatek’s flawless execution over its 24-year history, and its strong partners like Total and China’s CNPC, we see a bright future for this company.

Important Information

Blog header image: Nikitje / Getty Images

Before investing, investors should carefully read the prospectus and/or summary prospectus and carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and more complete information about the fund(s), investors should ask their advisors for a prospectus/summary prospectus or visit invesco.com/fundprospectus.

As of 9/30/19, Novatek represented 4.84% of Invesco Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund’s holdings. It should not be assumed that an investment in the securities identified was or will be profitable.

The opinions referenced above are those of the authors. These comments should not be construed as recommendations, but as an illustration of broader themes. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future results. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions; there can be no assurance that actual results will not differ materially from expectations.

The mention of specific countries, industries, securities, issuers or sectors does not constitute a recommendation on behalf of any fund or Invesco.

An investment in emerging market countries carries greater risks compared to more developed economies.

Invesco Distributors, Inc. is the US distributor for Invesco Ltd.’s retail products and collective trust funds, and is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Invesco Ltd.

Justin Leverenz, Team Leader and Senior Portfolio Manager

Justin Leverenz is a Team Leader and Senior Portfolio Manager for the OFI Emerging Markets Equity team at Invesco.

Mr. Leverenz joined Invesco when the firm combined with OppenheimerFunds in 2019. He joined OppenheimerFunds in 2004 as a senior research analyst. Prior to joining OppenheimerFunds, Mr. Leverenz was the director of Pan-Asian technology research for Goldman Sachs in Asia, where he covered technology companies throughout the region. He also served as head of equity research in Taiwan for Barclays de Zoete Wedd (now Credit Suisse) and as a portfolio manager for Martin Currie Investment Managers in Scotland. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and worked for over 10 years in the greater China region.

Mr. Leverenz earned a BA degree in Chinese studies and political economy and an MA in international economics from the University of California. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) charterholder.

 

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