October 15, 2019 / 6:53 AM / a month ago

Norway posts first monthly trade deficit since 2017 as gas exports plunge

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway recorded its first monthly trade deficit in almost two years last month, triggered by a sharp fall in sales of natural gas and a decline in the price of crude oil, its two most important exports.

FILE PHOTO: A view of Equinor's oil platform in Johan Sverdrup oilfield in the North Sea, Norway August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Nerijus Adomaitis/File Photo

The gap for September was 1.2 billion Norwegian crowns ($132 million), Statistics Norway (SSB) said on Tuesday. It was the first negative monthly trade balance since November 2017 and only the third in the last 20 years.

Europe’s second-largest energy exporter, after Russia, saw gas output decline by 27% from August to a nine-year low, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) said separately, missing the industry regulator’s forecast by 35%.

Crude output lagged expectations by a smaller 7.7%, the NPD added. SSB’s numbers showed the value of those oil exports fell 19% as prices declined.

While oil and gas normally contribute about half of Norway’s export revenues, their combined share declined to around 39% of the total in September, SSB’s data showed.

The value of gas exports declined 68% year-on-year as prices fell and volumes dropped, which SSB and the NPD said was primarily caused by maintenance work and some technical problems at offshore platforms and distribution terminals.

But the sharp fall in volume also indicated that producers had held back production to prevent a further price decline, Sparebank 1 Markets analyst Teodor Sveen-Nielsen said.

“We guess the low gas production is explained by low gas prices in Q3 and that operator Equinor (EQNR.OL) therefore has reduced the flex gas production at Troll,” he said, referring to the North Sea’s largest gas field and a key swing producer.

Troll was completely shut for four full days in September, and the field’s maintenance schedule shows its capacity reduction for the month was about four times larger than a year ago, according to gas pipeline operator Gassco.

State-controlled Equinor, which is due to report third-quarter earnings on Oct. 24, declined to comment.

The company has said in the past that it could increase or reduce gas production at its Troll and Oseberg fields to maximize its revenues.

Equinor this month began production from its Johan Sverdrup oil field, the largest North Sea crude discovery since the 1980s, which is expected to provide a significant boost to exports.

The year-to-date trade surplus fell to 106.3 billion crowns from 206.4 billion in 2018.

Writing by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Catherine Evans

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