China Gas Holdings is expected to import around 10 million mt/year of LPG over the next five years, up from the current 2.8 million mt/year, as the Hong Kong-listed gas operator and service provider seeks to expand into the petrochemical sector, industry sources said recently.

The group’s LPG sales totaled about 4.030 million mt, up 9% year on year, according to its 2017/18 annual report. Of these, 2.8 million mt were imported, and the balance were sourced from domestic suppliers such as refineries and other importers, the sources said.
The company projected its LPG sale to households to increase to 4.5 million mt in FY 2018/2019 from 4.030 million mt in FY 2017/2018. This is expected to rise further to 5 million mt in FY 2019/2020, and 6 million mt in FY 2020/2021, its annual report showed.

To meet this higher demand, the company plans to seal FOB term contracts with Middle East producers such as Qatar and Kuwait, industry sources said.

China Gas was recently awarded Kuwait Petroleum Corp.’s tender, in which it bought a 40,000-mt cargo comprising 33,000 mt of propane and 11,000 mt of butane for September 5-6 loading, at a discount of $5-$8/mt to the Saudi Aramco Contract Prices for propane and butane, FOB.

Sources said it would be the first time that China Gas would load a cargo from Kuwait on an FOB basis, aboard a chartered BW vessel.

This signaled a move by China Gas to load more FOB cargoes in future, sources added. The company is currently building two VLGCs at a Shanghai shipyard that are due for completion in 2019, which will enable it to do this, sources said.

China Gas in January bought via a term tender from a European trader 528,000 mt of mixed refrigerated LPG cargoes for delivery between April 1, 2018 and March 31 2019, at a premium in the low teens to the average of Saudi Aramco Contract Price for propane and butane and Far East Index during the month of delivery, CFR.

The company also hopes to meet incremental demand through imports of LPG from the US in future, provided the current trade war between the US and China is resolved soon. It currently does not have any term contract for US LPG, sources said.

China last Wednesday announced retaliatory tariffs on an additional $16 billion worth of US imports, including propane, butane and oil products in a new list of affected goods, the latest escalation in the trade war between the two countries after the US said it would impose a 25% tariff on an additional $16 billion worth of Chinese imports from August 23.

Chinese importers of US LPG are mainly propane dehydrogenation plants, or PDH, who buy mainly via term contracts. China imported 3.54 million mt of propane and butane from the US in 2017, making up 19% of the country’s total LPG imports, customs data showed.

The 25% tariff will raise the import cost of US LPG by more than Yuan 1,000/mt ($146.38/mt), S&P Global Platts calculation showed.

The industry source said that China Gas is also planning to build a PDH plant over the next two years, heralding the company’s entry into the petrochemical business. He declined to give further details on its capacity.

China now has eight PDH plants with LPG processing capacity of 5.53 million mt/year, and propylene production capacity of 4.61 million mt/year, data from JLC, a domestic information provider showed.

With the addition of new PDH plants, excluding the China Gas project, propylene production capacity is expected to rise to 8.33 million mt/year by 2022, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics data.

China Gas’ expansion plans include building five more large LPG terminals on the coastal regions in the north, east and south, the sources said. It currently operates seven large and four small terminals.

When asked to comment on the company’s development plans as well as plans to increase imports, a spokesman said: “As a public company, we can only discuss those public information that we have already disclosed to the market. Hence, I am not in a good position to comment on your questions.”