* Japan in market for April cargoes, as one more reactor shuts
* Asia continues to draw Atlantic cargoes, freight costs limit
By Rebekah Kebede
PERTH, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Asian liquefied natural gas spot prices rose to over $15 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) LNG-AS as Japanese demand for the fuel increased.
Japan, the world’s largest LNG consumer, was seen back in the market for LNG cargoes for April delivery as it struggles to meet electricity demands with more than 95 percent of its nuclear reactors offline.
Kansai Electric Power Co shut its Takahama plant late on Monday for scheduled maintenance, leaving just two of 54 of Japan’s nuclear reactors online.
The number of reactors online has dwindled since the Fukushima radiation crisis, with those entering routine maintenance unable to restart due to public safety concerns.
By April, there may be no reactors left online unless reactors meet new safety checks and receive clearance from the central and local governments.
A cold snap in Europe this week may have also prompted some pre-emptive buying demand in Asia, with some traders fearing the higher European prices would increase Asian spot prices up as well.
“That has given a bit of support to the Japanese market and they are more willing to buy,” one market source said.
South Korea, the world’s second largest consumer of the fuel, was on the sidelines, with more of its supply coming from long-term contracts after the Fukushima crisis pushed spot prices up to around $18 per mmBtu, prompting it to lock up supplies in longer-term contracts.
Asia continues to draw a steady stream of re-exports from the Atlantic Basin with higher prices luring cargoes eastward.
Spot prices in Europe were seen at around $11 per mmBtu compared to North Asian prices of around $15 per mmBtu.
In March, Asia will receive at least four LNG cargoes re-exported from the Atlantic Basin, according to Waterborne LNG analysts.
Kansai Electric is expected to receive a Spanish re-export cargo in early March, South Korea is expected to receive a Belgium re-export in mid-March, and Japan’s Tokyo Electric expects a re-export from Brazil in late March.
The re-exports continue despite the rising cost of LNG tankers, which have increased five-fold since the summer of 2010 to $145,000 per day now.
LNG shipping firm Golar LNG said this week it expects improved tanker earnings until 2017 as an increase in Japanese demand reduces the supply of available vessels.
The Norwegian shipper said its October-December net income more than tripled, driven by sustained cargo diversions from Europe to Asia and said it sees robust growth outlook for the LNG market.
But the global LNG market faces constraints in 2012 as potential delays to new projects risk eroding a narrow supply surplus, with the effect of keeping prices high, Reuters research and analyst data suggests. (Editing by Miral Fahmy)