CME, Cheniere to develop first U.S. LNG futures contract

(Reuters) - CME Group Inc said on Tuesday it will develop the first physically deliverable U.S. liquefied natural gas futures contract as growing worldwide demand has made the United States a key LNG exporter.

FILE PHOTO: Men enter the CME Group offices in New York, U.S., October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

CME said the contract will take delivery at Cheniere Energy Inc’s Sabine Pass LNG export terminal in Louisiana. It could not say when it will launch the new product or provide details other than that it will trade on the CME’s New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) like its Henry Hub natural gas futures.

Overall world LNG consumption has risen to a record 39.0 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in 2017 from just 29.1 bcfd in 2010 and is expected to keep growing by about 3 percent a year through 2050, according to U.S. energy data.

While LNG trade on exchanges like the CME is still small, experts believe volumes will increase rapidly in the near future as the United States becomes one of the world’s biggest LNG exporters.

Total U.S. LNG export capacity is expected to rise to 10.1 bcfd of gas in 2020 from 3.8 bcfd now, making the country the third-biggest LNG exporter in the world by capacity in 2019. One billion cubic feet is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day.

“We have spoken to the market and they have expressed a desire to have a physically delivered LNG contract that can help them manage price risks,” said Peter Keavey, global head of energy at CME.

Pricing at Cheniere’s Sabine Pass is currently linked to the Henry Hub gas benchmark traded on CME’s NYMEX. Sabine Pass was the first terminal in the U.S. lower 48 states to produce and deliver super-cooled LNG for export to the world.

Cheniere is the biggest buyer of gas in the United States, consuming over 3.1 bcfd, and is expected to increase purchases as more liquefaction trains at Sabine Pass and its Corpus Christi LNG export terminal enter service. The company’s current consumption represents almost 4 percent of total projected U.S. gas production of 81.3 bcfd in 2018.

“With Cheniere behind the CME futures contract...the odds would favor the CME contract especially if Cheniere immediately starts to sell its LNG on a Sabine Pass contract basis,” said Dominick Chirichella, director risk management, trading and advisory services at EMI DTN in New York.

The LNG market is in transition with a shift from long-term towards shorter-term contracts. Current users of LNG derivatives include big commodity trading houses like Trafigura, Vitol and Gunvor.

“I would surmise that in say five years there will be robust derivatives markets in LNG,” said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor specializing in commodities at the University of Houston.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino in New York and Oleg Vukmanovic in London; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Susan Thomas and Cynthia Osterman