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Asian prices drop to 17-month low on tepid demand

Trucks carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) are seen at Sinopec's LNG terminal in Tianjin, China October 22, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

By Jessica Jaganathan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian spot prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) continued their downward spiral this week, hitting a 17-month low as the market moved further away from the peak winter-demand period and inventories remained high in the region.

Spot prices for March delivery to Asia fell to $6.50 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) this week, down 20 cents from the previous week to their lowest since Sept. 8, 2017, trade sources said.

April prices are estimated at about $6.30 per mmBtu, the sources said.

Demand in China remained tepid as many factories there were still shut for Lunar New Year celebrations, trade sources said. The Lunar New Year fell on Feb. 5 and 6 this year, but the festival typically lasts for about two weeks.

While temperatures in Beijing and Shanghai briefly dipped below normal levels, they are expected to rise next week, weather data on Refinitiv Eikon showed.

"It snowed in Beijing but it's not that cold still, plus the factories are still shut, so the inventory levels are still quite high," a China-based trade source said.

Several unplanned outages failed to lift prices, indicating just how weak demand is currently, trade sources said.

Loadings of LNG cargoes at Malaysia's Bintulu export plant, operated by Petronas, were delayed this week due to lower production, sources have said.

But the delay was due to minor glitches at the plant which have since been resolved, one of the sources said.

In Australia, at least one train was down briefly at Chevron Corp's Wheatstone LNG plant but operations have resumed since, sources said. Chevron declined to comment.

Train 3 of Chevron's Gorgon LNG project in Western Australia is still down after it was shut in mid-January following a mechanical issue, sources said.

All sources declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak with media.

Woodside Petroleum's Pluto LNG facility has also resumed full output after a brief outage.

With prices falling, there is also less incentive for producers to keep output at high levels, an industry source said.

LNG exports from U.S. LNG terminals are returning to normal after loadings were delayed earlier this month when natural gas flows to terminals fell to their lowest level in almost a year due to maintenance work and a fog along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Supply remained ample in Asia with Kuwait Petroleum Corp and Indonesia's Donggi-Senoro LNG export plant offering cargoes for March and April.

Indonesia's Pertamina sold four cargoes it had offered for March 2019 to early 2020 from its Bontang plant, although price and buyer details could not immediately be confirmed.

(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Wilda Asmarini; Editing by Tom Hogue and Joseph Radford)