Exxon Mobil bets big on China LNG, sidesteps trade war

FILE PHOTO: The ExxonMobil Hides Gas Conditioning Plant process area is seen in Papua New Guinea in this handout photo dated March 1, 2018. ExxonMobil/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

HOUSTON/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – In the middle of a Sino-U.S. trade war, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company is turning toward Beijing for business at a time when most of Corporate America is looking elsewhere to avoid the threat of tariffs. Exxon Mobil Corp is placing big bets on China’s soaring liquefied natural gas (LNG) demand, coupling multi-billion dollar production projects around the world with its first mainland storage and distribution outlet. Its gas strategy is moving on two tracks: expanding output of the super-cooled gas in places such as Papua New Guinea and Mozambique, and creating demand for those supplies in China by opening Exxon’s first import and storage hub, according to an Exxon manager and people briefed on the company’s plans. That combination “will guarantee us a steady outlet for lots of our LNG for decades,” said the Exxon manager who was not authorized to discuss the project and spoke on condition of anonymity. One of the company’s top policy goals this year, the manager said, is building its Chinese client roster. “China’s natural gas demand is rising really fast, with imports soaring well over 10 percent annually at the moment because of the government gasification program and due to fast rising industrial demand, including in petrochemicals,” the Exxon manager said. Exxon said last month it would participate in the construction of an LNG import terminal in Huizhou, Guangdong region and provide supplies to it. This makes it only the second foreign major with such a stake in an LNG terminal. Exxon is among the top ranked U.S. companies that are pushing ahead in China despite the trade dispute, but it is not alone. U.S. and European car makers are opening or expanding China plants to avoid hefty tariffs and transport costs. Tesla Inc this month acquired a Shanghai site for a car and battery-manufacturing complex. The decision to expand its LNG production and open an import terminal in the world’s fastest growing LNG market is a step by Exxon Chief Executive Darren Woods to pull the company out of an earnings rut.