* Japanese utilities snap up cargoes for Feb, March - traders
* Temperatures set to dip lower in Japan, South Korea
* Supply from Cove Point could weigh on prices
By Jessica Jaganathan and Oleg Vukmanovic
SINGAPORE, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Asian spot LNG prices eased further this week on expectations of reduced buying but plunging temperatures in Japan, South Korea and China prevented a steep price decline.
Spot prices for March LNG-AS delivery in Asia fell 20 cents to $10.20 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), according to LNG traders in Asia. This is the lowest price since Dec. 7, but 36 percent higher than the same period last year, Reuters data showed.
Cargoes for delivery in February are trading at close to $12 per mmBtu, they added, as spot demand from Japan remained firm.
“Many buyers have rolled over their requirements to buy in March as February prices were too high, so March should still be supported,” a Singapore-based LNG trader said.
Power utilities in Japan have been snapping up spot cargoes over the past two weeks for delivery in February and early March, as flagging temperatures in northern Asia are set to dip further, a second Singapore-based LNG trader said.
Japan’s imports of LNG rose to nearly 8.7 million tonnes last month, up 8 percent from December and the largest volume since at least January, 2013, according to ship tracking data on Thomson Reuters Eikon that goes back five years.
Temperatures in Japan and South Korea look set to dip lower this week, according to Eikon data.
There was speculation by traders of potential spot LNG demand emerging from South Korea given the bitterly cold temperatures.
In China, gas shortages continue though traders have largely scaled back their spot purchases for the first quarter. Deliveries into China slipped to 4.9 million tonnes in January, from the peak of about 5 million tonnes in December, Reuters data showed.
South Korea’s POSCO bought a cargo for March 2 to 5 delivery into Gwangyang at a premium of about $10.30 to $10.50 per mmBtu, traders said.
This is similar to a cargo purchased by Japan’s Tohoku Electric for a second-half March cargo, they added.
Australia’s APLNG sold a cargo for early February at a premium between $11.80 and $12 per mmBtu while India’s Gail may have bought a spot cargo for March at a premium of $9.50 to $10 per mmBtu, traders said.
Exports from Indonesia with around 345 million cubic metres loaded onto tankers in the week starting Jan. 29, compared with 591 mcm in the previous week, according to data on Thomson Reuters Eikon.
Some trade sources said Indonesia’s Bontang LNG export facility was experiencing feed gas issues. One off-taker said Pertamina informed them that output had been affected.
The handover of the Mahakam gas block from France’s Total to Pertamina on Jan. 1 may have impacted supplies as Pertamina gets to grips with technical issues, he said.
A Japanese off-taker reported no delivery delays. Pertamina declined to respond to a request for comment
Still, prices could ease once exports start from the Cove Point LNG export project in Maryland.
Dominion Energy said on Thursday that Cove Point has started producing LNG at its natural gas liquefaction facility, which is undergoing commissioning and will start commercial service in early March.
Russia’s Sakhalin II project put eight cargoes up for sale between May 2018 and March 2019 with the tender closing on Feb. 9, traders said.
Angola LNG was also offering a cargo bilaterally most likely to one of the existing off-takers, which include Vitol, Glencore and RWE Supply & Trading, a market source said.
Mexico’s CFE, which this week sought two February cargoes for its Atlantic coast Altamira terminal, was expected to seek more supply for its Manzanillo terminal on the Pacific in mid-to-late February for supplies in April-July, a source said.
In North Africa, Egypt purchased five cargoes for delivery in the second quarter through bilateral deals.
Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan and Oleg Vukmanovic, editing by David Evans