What's going on?
On Wednesday, crude oil producer Saudi Aramco – the world’s most profitable company – inked a deal with American firm Sempra Energy to expand into the increasingly popular liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.
What does this mean?
Saudi Aramco’s getting 25% of Sempra’s initial Texas-based LNG project for an undisclosed sum. The oily pair have also agreed that Saudi Aramco will buy five million metric tons of LNG from Sempra annually for the next twenty years, helping to fulfill Aramco’s global gas ambitions perhaps more cheaply than by liberating more of its own supply at home.
LNG’s rising popularity is partly down to the world taking greater heed of environmental concerns. As we turn toward more environmentally friendly renewable energy from wind and hydro, natural gas is considered a good transitional energy source – it’s less damaging than coal. Indeed, two US oil titans battled it out last month to buy rival Anadarko Petroleum, which does a roaring LNG trade.
Why should I care?
For markets: A reason to revisit Saudi bonds.
Saudi Aramco’s first-ever bond sale last month was met with high investor demand, which pushed the bonds’ initial yields below those of Saudi Arabia’s much safer government bonds. Some investors then offloaded Aramco’s bonds, thinking them overvalued: those low yields suggested Saudi Aramco was a safer bet than Saudi Arabia’s government which, unlike a company, can print money to repay its debt (tweet this). But Saudi Aramco – and the country as a whole – diversifying away from crude oil may attract investors back to Aramco’s bonds, and to the government’s.
The bigger picture: Oil, you’ve changed.
The rising prevalence of LNG and shale oil has perhaps reduced investors’ sensitivity to crude oil supply disruptions. Reports of attacks on Saudi Arabian oil units last week might once have caused the oil price (and heart rates) to spike as investors worried about potential shortages. However, oil’s price hasn’t moved much: in fact, producing too much oil appears to be the bigger concern.