Is Europe’s energy crisis over?
One year on from Russia’s illegal and tragic invasion of Ukraine, we examine five charts which show how the resulting energy crisis has affected Europe.
Alongside the ongoing devastating human consequences of Russia’s shocking invasion of Ukraine a year ago, it prompted a crisis in wider Europe.
From a financial markets point of view, this was mainly felt via spiking energy prices as Western nations imposed sanctions on Russian oil and Russia later cut off natural gas supplies.
Lack of access to Russian gas meant Europe, especially Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Italy, had to seek other sources of energy. This proved expensive. Natural gas prices soared, particularly in September 2022 on investor fears of potential gas shortages and power cuts in the coming winter.
However, as the chart above shows, Europe’s natural gas price has since fallen sharply. This is due to a number of factors, including a relatively mild winter.
Another factor is that several European countries have taken steps to reduce demand. The below chart shows how demand for gas in Germany has fallen. The chart shows the monthly change in gas consumption of all gas customers compared to the average of 2018-21.
Milder weather, reduced demand and the purchase of gas from other sources, often liquified natural gas (LNG) cargoes, meant that Europe has avoided power cuts and has rebuilt its gas storage to healthy levels.
Fill levels remain at around 80% across Europe as of January 2023. This is in line with EU rules that demand an 80% minimum storage over this winter.
The chart below shows the gas storage levels now in Germany compared to the previous year. Total storage level in Germany is 73%, which is more than double a year ago. It reached 100% in November 2022.
The sharply rising gas price has also had a significant impact on the European economy, sending inflation to double-digit levels. As gas prices tumble, inflationary pressure should ease, although other components, such as food prices, are still rising.
Azad Zangana, Schroders Senior European Economist, said: “The natural gas price in Europe has been a large contributor towards higher inflation rates over the past year. At the latest European Central Bank (ECB) meeting, policymakers noted the significant falls in prices since the end of 2022 will be a very helpful factor in lowering inflation rates later this year.
“The ECB has already signalled that it will raise rates again in March by another 50 basis points. However, it has stated that from March it will ‘…evaluate the subsequent path of its monetary policy’ – potentially creating an opportunity to pause rate rises. Our expectation is that interest rates will be kept on hold from that point on.”
So, power cuts have been avoided, gas storage levels have been replenished, and energy prices are falling which reduces the need to put up interest rates further. Is this the end of the energy crisis facing Europe?
Unfortunately, the story may not be that simple.
Last year, Europe could still count on the supply of Russian gas for a few months early in the year; that is not the case now. Also, some of the reduced demand for energy was due to mild winter weather and there is no guarantee of a repeat this coming winter.
Mark Lacey, Head of Global Resource Equities, said: “Europe has met much of its need for non-Russian energy supply by buying up LNG cargoes. This comes as a cost given that other countries are also seeking to buy extra LNG, partly because it is less polluting than alternatives such as coal.
“What’s more, 2022 saw limited demand for LNG from China, given how economic activity was constrained by Covid lockdowns. China’s economic recovery will mean greater demand for the limited LNG supply available, leading to higher prices.
“New LNG supply is coming onstream, but it won’t be ready for a few years. Supply can only meet demand growth from 2025 onwards. Our conversations with energy companies suggest that, unless high prices help curtail demand, the next 18 - 24 months will be very challenging for both Europe and Asia.
“And the LNG market cannot keep growing if the world is to meet its net zero climate commitments. More investment is going into renewable energy. This clearly is the long-term solution, but it isn’t a quick fix. We think Europe is not out of the woods yet when it comes to energy supply.”
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The views and opinions contained herein are those of Schroders’ investment teams and/or Economics Group, and do not necessarily represent Schroder Investment Management North America Inc.’s house views. These views are subject to change. This information is intended to be for information purposes only and it is not intended as promotional material in any respect.