By Jessica Jaganathan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian spot prices for liquefied natural gas (LNG) continued their downward spiral this week, hitting a 17-month low as the market moved further away from the peak winter demand period and inventories remained high in the region.
Spot prices for March delivery to Asia fell to $6.50 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) this week, down 20 cents from the previous week to their lowest since Sept. 8, 2017, trade sources said.
April prices are estimated at about $6.30 per mmBtu, the sources said.
Demand in China remained tepid as many factories there were still shut for Lunar New Year celebrations, trade sources said. The Lunar New Year fell on Feb. 5 and 6 this year, but the festival typically lasts for about two weeks.
While temperatures in Beijing and Shanghai dipped below normal briefly, they are expected to get warmer next week, weather data from Refinitiv Eikon showed.
"It snowed in Beijing but it's not that cold still, plus the factories are still shut, so the inventory levels are still quite high," a China-based trade source said.
Several unplanned outages failed to lift prices, indicating just how weak demand is currently, trade sources said.
Loadings of LNG cargoes at Malaysia's Bintulu export plant, operated by Petronas, were delayed this week due to lower production, sources have said.
But the delay was due to minor glitches at the plant which have since been resolved, one of the sources said.
Woodside Petroleum's Pluto LNG facility has also resumed full output after a brief outage.
With prices falling, there is also less incentive for producers to keep output at high levels, an industry source said.
Natural gas flows to U.S. LNG export terminals were expected to increase in coming days after collapsing to their lowest level in almost a year as fog clears along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Analysts said the drop was due to maintenance work at the LNG terminals and pipelines feeding them, and fog, which had forced several vessels to drop anchor in the Gulf of Mexico.
At least one LNG cargo was delayed briefly from Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, but loadings have since resumed, a source familiar with the matter said.
Still, supply remained ample in Asia with Kuwait Petroleum Corp and Indonesia's Donggi-Senoro LNG export plant offering cargoes for March and April.
Indonesia's Pertamina sold four cargoes it had offered for March 2019 to early 2020 from its Bontang plant, although price and buyer details could not immediately be confirmed.
(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; Additional reporting by Jane Chung and Wilda Asmarini; Editing by Tom Hogue)