* S. Korean inventories more than 90 percent full
* Qatargas restarts trains 5, 6 and 7 after maintenance
* European market dull, Dec imports 26 pct down on 2010
* Shipping rates reach $140,000/day, eye $200,000 in 2012
By Oleg Vukmanovic and Rebekah Kebede
LONDON, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Asian LNG prices slipped below $17 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) as mild winter weather in Asia and well-stocked inventories kept buyers out of the market.
South Korea’s inventories are still at over 90 percent of storage capacity of 3.8 million tonnes, though down from 95 percent of capacity in November.
Kansai Electric Power Co, Japan’s second-biggest utility, said it needs to buy slightly less fossil fuel in October-March than it projected a month ago, as it maximised nuclear output.
LNG industry is still eyeing developments with Japan’s nuclear reactors to gauge demand for next year.
Kansai Electric said Friday the No.2 reactor at its Ohi nuclear plant had entered planned maintenance, bringing the number of reactors online in Japan to seven, or 13.9 percent of the nation’s nuclear power capacity.
The world’s biggest LNG producer Qatar this week said it had resumed production from Qatargas trains 5, 6 and 7 following maintenance, adding more supply to global markets.
Europe’s market for spot LNG trade showed few signs of life as plentiful pipeline supplies, sagging demand and declining prices across major hubs discouraged interest.
Key western European ports in Britain, Belgium, France and Spain continued to receive long-term shipments from Qatar, which was enough to meet demand despite a year-on-year drop in deliveries.
Europe is set to import 4.8 million metric tonnes of LNG this month. That’s 26 percent less than in the same period last year, according to data from Waterborne.
Daily rental rates on LNG tankers are between $135,000 and $140,000 after the latest round of fixtures and record demand for transportation.
The Excelsior tanker was leased on Wednesday at that level, one broker said, who added that the Exquisite which was chartered last week fetched a similar amount.
Investment bank Morgan Stanley this week predicted that day-rates in 2012 will reach $200,000, representing the extreme upper range of analysts’ forecasts. (Reporting by Oleg Vukmanovic; editing by Jason Neely)