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Thursday, 23 September 21
RECORD-HIGH GAS PRICES AFFECT MANY EUROPEAN CORPORATE SECTORS - FITCH RATINGS
Fitch RatingsRecord-high natural gas prices are putting pressure on supply chains of many European corporate sectors, including non-integrated energy suppliers, fertiliser producers and consumer goods companies, Fitch Ratings says. Smaller companies in these industries are under the most pressure, while larger and more diversified issuers rated by Fitch are better positioned to mitigate the impact. Gas prices could remain high until the end of the winter heating season, given low levels of natural gas in European storage facilities. However, we expect prices to moderate once seasonal demand reduces.
 
High gas prices and working capital fluctuations have already caused several non-integrated UK gas suppliers (not rated by Fitch) to ask for state support in fulfilling their supply obligations to customers.
 
The Spanish government has introduced a levy on low-carbon power producers to support smaller suppliers.
 
Supply is typically a small part of larger Fitch-rated integrated utilities in Europe, which are able to pass costs on to most customer groups, or hedge. Although we expect higher gas prices to increase regulatory risks, the rated utilities’ diversification by jurisdiction and business line, including electricity production and distribution networks, cushions the impact. The unfolding situation in the European gas market may further accelerate the energy transition in the utility sector towards renewables.
 
Fertiliser producers have been severely affected by rising gas prices. Gas is a key input in ammonia production, which is further used in urea and DAP production. Several ammonia plants in Europe have cut their output or have temporarily shut down operations. Larger Fitch-rated fertiliser producers with a global presence are able to continue production in other regions or source ammonia from third parties, limiting the impact. Producers may also seek to increase fertiliser prices to pass costs onto consumers.
 
Agriculture and food producers are affected by challenges in the fertiliser sector. Agribusinesses may face shortages in fertiliser supplies and increased prices, most likely increasing their costs in the next season’s harvest. However, meat processors and carbonated drinks manufacturers, particularly in the UK, already face disruptions due to CO2 shortages, which is a by-product of ammonia manufacturing and is used in meat and fizzy drinks production. Geographically diversified food and beverages producers are better positioned to mitigate such shortages.
 
The record-high prices in Europe are driven by increased demand (due to the wider economic recovery and weather-related factors), competition with Asia for LNG, and a limited supply response from Gazprom, Europe’s largest supplier, providing about a third of Europe’s gas. Prices have also risen due to market fears of a gas deficit during the winter heating season due to low European storage utilisation compared to previous years.
 
Utilisation at Gazprom-linked storage facilities (around 10% of European capacity) is particularly low, affecting average utilisation rates in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. Furthermore, unlike September in recent years, Gazprom has not offered any meaningful volumes for delivery this or next year via its electronic sales platform (a sales channel for short-term gas deliveries, used in addition to sales under long-term contracts). Gazprom’s total exports should increase in 2021 but this is unlikely to be sufficient to re-balance the market. Starting the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is facing difficulties in obtaining necessary approvals from regulators in Europe, may affect the availability of additional gas volumes.
 
We have recently increased our short-term gas price assumptions. However, we expect a normalisation of demand and potential additional supplies to result in a return to mid-cycle pricing from 2023.
Source: Fitch Ratings


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