Volatile European Gas Price Outlook Leaves Firms, Governments Struggling to Plan Ahead

Fluctuating forecasts for European natural gas prices this year have left both companies and governments struggling to plan ahead as uncertainties from China’s economic recovery to the impact of the war in Ukraine persist. Governments try to calculate the scale of fuel subsidy allocations, while companies, particularly energy intensive ones like fertilizer producers and steelmakers, have been facing a decision on whether to restart production they shut down because of last year’s price spike. European Steel Association says pressure has been mounting on some manufacturers to close permanently part of the capacity.

In January, forecasts for Dutch TTF gas price, the European benchmark, had ranged from €64 to €125 per MWh. Now, the gap has narrowed to €60 to €95 per MWh.

Still, even at the lower end, the gas price is about three times higher than in 2020, driven up by post-pandemic surge in global demand and a gas shortage in Europe amid dwindling Russian supplies.

Dutch TTF, which shot above €300/MWh last year, is now below €60/MWh, thanks to a warm winter and Europe’s efforts to store and save fuel. They had stayed below €30/MWh for at least a decade until mid-2021.

But some manufacturers say prices are still too high to justify reopening.

This year’s outlook is expected to depend on whether Russian supply further drops, the weather and Chinese demand as its economy rebounds.

As Russian pipeline supplies fall, Europe is now being affected more from Chinese and Asian LNG.

LNG imports by the European Union and Britain were almost 70% higher in 2022 compared to 2021, while imports to Northeast Asia and South Asia fell 7%.

European industry’s woes are not limited to energy prices. The fact that U.S. is offering significant green industrial subsidies could cause investment to be drawn away from Europe. The EU has been drawing up a response.

Meanwhile, European governments, which splashed out billions of euros in subsidies to help companies and households facing crippling energy bills last year, are struggling to plan ahead.

Germany said in January spending on gas and electricity price caps, part of a €200 billion package to help consumers with high energy prices, could be lower than expected.

Britain too said last month that it would scale back last year’s scheme that helped firms cope with high energy bills, while companies complained it was too early to remove the support.

Europe’s efforts to expand infrastructure to import more LNG may help avoid a 2022-style spike again, but the region’s supply situation is still finely balanced.

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