A ”Game of Chicken”: How long do you dare to wait before buying?

The EUA market rallied 3.4% ydy and is adding another 0.5% this afternoon with EUA Dec-24 at EUR 54.2/ton. Despite the current bounce in prices we think that the ongoing sell-off in EUA prices still has another EUR 10/ton downside from here which will place the low-point of EUA Dec-24 and Dec-25 at around around EUR 45/ton. Rapidly rising natural gas inventory surplus versus normal and nat gas demand in Europe at 23% below normal will likely continue to depress nat gas prices in Europe and along with that EUA prices. The EUA price will likely struggle to break below the EUR 50/ton level, but we think it will break.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

That said, our strong view is still that the deal of the year is to build strategic long positions in EUA contracts. These certificates are ”licence to operate” for all companies who are participants in the EU ETS irrespective whether it is industry, shipping, aviation or utilities. We have argued this strongly towards our corporate clients. The feedback we are getting is that many of them indeed are planning to do just that with board approvals pending. Issuance of EUAs is set to fall sharply from 2026 onward. The Market Stability Reserve (MSR) mechanism will clean out any surplus EUAs above 833 m t by 2025/26. Medium-term market outlook 2026/27 is unchanged and not impacted by current bearish market fundamentals with fair EUA price north of EUR 100/ton by then. Building strategic long position in EUAs in 2024 is not about pinpointing the low point which we think will be around EUR 45/ton, but instead all about implementing a solid strategic purchasing plan for EUAs for 2024.

The ingredients in the bottoming process will be: 1) Re-start of European industry as energy prices come down to normal, 2) Revival in nat gas demand as this happens, 3) Nat gas prices finding a floor and possibly rebounding a bit as this happens, 4) Asian nat gas demand reviving as nat gas now normally priced versus oil, 5) Strategic purchasing of EUA by market participants in the EU ETS, 6) Speculative buying of EUAs, 7) Bullish political intervention in H2-24 and 2025 as EU economies revive on cheap energy and politicians have 2024-elections behind them.

On #1 we now see calculations that aluminium smelters in Europe now are in-the-money but not restarted yet. On #2 we see that demand destruction (temp. adj.) in Europe is starting to fade a bit. On #3 we have not seen that yet. On #4 we see stronger flows of LNG to Asia. On #5 we see lots of our corporate clients planning to purchase strategically and finding current EUA prices attractive.  On #6 it may be a bit early and so as well for #7.  

For EU ETS participants it may be a ”Game of Chicken”: How long do you dare to wait before buying? Those who wait too long may find the carbon constrained future hard to handle. 

Ydy’s short-covering rally lost some steam this morning before regaining some legs in the afternoon. The EUA Dec-24 ydy rallied 3.4% to EUR 53.97/ton in what looks like a short-covering-rally in both coal, nat gas, power and EUAs. This morning it gave almost all of the gains back again before regaining some strength in the afternoon to the point where it is now up at EUR 54.7/ton which is +1.4% vs. ydy. A weather forecast promising more seasonally normal temperatures and below normal winds could be part of the explanation.

The power market is currently the main driver and nat gas prices the most active agent. The main driver in the EUA market is the power market. When the EUA market is medium-tigh (not too loose and not too tight), then the EUA price will naturally converge towards the balancing point where the cost of coal fired electricity equals the cost of gas fired electricity. I.e. the EUA price which solves the equation: a*Coal_price + b*EUA_price = c*Gas_price + d*EUA_price where a, b, c and d are coefficients given by energy efficiency levels, emission factors and EURUSD fex forward rates. As highlighted earlier, this is not one unique EUA balancing price but a range of crosses between different efficiencies for coal power and gas power versus each other.

Coal-to-gas dynamics will eventually fade as price driver for EUAs but right now they are fully active. Eventually these dynamics will come to a halt as a price driver for the EUA price and that is when the carbon market (EU ETS) becomes so tight that all the dynamical flexibility to flex out of coal and into gas has been exhausted. At that point in time the marginal abatement cost setting the price of an EUA will move to other parts of the economy where the carbon abatement cost typically is EUR 100/ton or higher. We expect this to happen in 2026/27.

But for now it is all about the power market and the converging point where the EUA price is balancing the cost of Coal + CO2 equal to Gas + CO2 as described above. And here again it is mostly about the price of natural gas which has moved most dramatically of the pair Coal vs Gas.

Nat gas demand in Europe is running 23% below normal and inventories are way above normal. And natural gas prices have fallen lower and lower as proper demand recovery keeps lagging the price declines. Yes, demand will eventually revive due low nat gas prices, and we can see emerging signs of that happening both in Europe and in Asia, but nat gas in Europe is still very, very weak vs. normal. But reviving demand is typically lagging in time vs price declines. Nat gas in Europe over the 15 days to 25. Feb was roughly 23% below normal this time of year in a combination of warm weather and still depressed demand. Inventories are falling much slower than normal as a result and now stand at 63.9% vs. a normal 44.4% which is 262 TWh more than normal inventories.

Bearish pressure in nat gas prices looks set to continue in the short term. Natural gas prices will naturally be under pressure to move yet lower as long as European nat gas demand revival is lagging and surplus inventory of nat gas keeps rising rapidly. And falling front-end nat gas prices typically have a guiding effect on forward nat gas prices as well.

Yet lower nat gas prices and yet lower EUA prices in the near term most likely. Nat gas prices in Europe will move yet lower regarding both spot and forwards and the effect on EUA will be continued bearish pressure on prices.

EUA’s may struggle a bit to break below the EUR 50/ton line but most likely they will. EUA prices will typically struggle a bit to cross below EUR 50/ton just because it is a significant number. But it is difficult to see that this price level won’t be broken properly as the bearish pressure continues from the nat gas side of the equation. Even if nat gas prices comes to a halt at current prices we should still see the EUA price break below the EUR 50/ton level and down towards EUR 45/ton for Dec-24 and Dec-25.

The front-year nat gas price is the most important but EUA price should move yet lower even if it TTF-2025 stays unchanged at EUR 27.7/ton. The front-year is the most important for the EUA price as that is where there is most turnover and hedging. The following attractors for the EUA forward prices is with today’s TTF forward price curve (TTF Cal-2025 = EUR 27.7/ton) and today’s forward EURUSD FX curve and with ydy’s ARA coal closing prices. What it shows is that the forward EUA attractors are down at EUR 45/ton and lower.

The front-year Coal-to-Gas differential is the most important ”attractor” for the EUA price (Cal-2025 = average of Dec-24 and Dec-25) and that is down to around EUR 45/ton with a TTF Cal-2025 price of EUR 27.7/ton. The bearish pressure on EUA prices will continue as long as the forward nat gas prices are at these price levels or lower.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

And if we take the EUA attractors from all the different energy efficiency crosses between coal and gas then we get an average attractor of EUR 44.2/ton for EUA Cal-2025 (= average of Dec-24 and Dec-25) versus a market price today of EUR 53.9/ton.

Calculating all the energy efficiency crosses between coal and gas power plants with current prices for coal and nat gas for 2025 we get an average of EUR 44.2/ton vs an EUA market price of EUR 53.9/ton. Bearish pressure on EUAs will continue as long as this is the case.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blgrg data

Utility hedging incentive index still deeply negative: Utilities have no incentive currently to buy coal, gas and EUAs forward and sell power forward against it as these forward margins are currently negative => very weak purchasing of EUAs from utilities for the time being. 

Source: SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

Natural gas in Europe for different periods with diff between actual and normal decomposed into ”price effect” and ”weather effect”. Demand last 15 days were 23% below normal!

Source: SEB calculations and graph, Blbrg data

Natural gas inventories in Europe vs the 2014-2023 average. Surplus vs. normal is rising rapidly.

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

Nat gas inventories in Europe at record high for the time of year. Depressing spot prices more and more. Nat gas prices are basically shouting: ”Demand, demand, where are you?? Come and eat me!”

Source: SEB graph and calculations, Blbrg data

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