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SINGAPORE/CHIBA (Reuters) - Asian spot LNG prices edged higher this week, albeit from low levels, as tight production supported a market undergoing fundamental changes amid a surge in new sellers and buyers.
Spot price for May delivery of LNG in Asia rose by 10 cents to $5.80 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) as seasonal tightness supported the market.
Trading data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that global LNG supplies have dipped slightly below demand, although analysts said that this was likely only a temporary effect as several production units go into maintenance following the end of the northern hemisphere's peak demand winter heating season.
Neil Beveridge, senior oil and gas analyst at AB Bernstein in Hong Kong, said the "market was tight over the winter period (strong China demand and outages), and you could see that in the spot price", but he added that prices would likely soften soon "with the seasonal demand downturn."
LNG markets are undergoing fundamental changes, as a growing number of supplies are coming to market, forcing producers to offer their buyers more flexible terms in order to retain market share.
Following months of rising pressure from big buyers in Japan, South Korea and China, major producers including Royal Dutch Shell, Woodside Petroleum, and BP said at an industry event in Japan this week that they would allow more supply flexibility in future contracts.
With supplies expected to outstrip demand in the coming years, many producers are expected to sell excess cargoes into the spot market, while more contract flexibility means that utilities may also start selling more LNG into the spot market.
Some producers are warning that the current glut will end in the early 2020s due to a lack in investment because of low prices.
Despite this, there are signs that investment into new production that would hit the market in the early 2020s is picking up again.
Qatar said this week that it has lifted a self-imposed ban on development of the world's biggest natural gas field, ending a 12-year moratorium as the world's top LNG exporter looks to see off an expected rise in competition.
Italy's ENI said this week that it was "very close" to making a final investment decision on the Coral floating LNG project in Mozambique, with start-up expected around 2022.
In a similar development, Japan's Mitsui & Co expects a final investment decision on the U.S. Anadarko-led offshore LNG project, also in Mozambique, in April-June 2018, four months later than expected.
Reprting by Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE and Mark Tay in CHIBA; Editing by Richard Pullin