The past year for Cheniere Energy (AMEX: LNG ) has been a little like an endless roller coaster. The stock is actually up since the year began, but if you've owned the stock the entire time you have to be suffering from motion sickness.
The stock has popped repeatedly on rumors and news of liquefied natural gas deals. But it has also plunged repeatedly as investors worry about mounting debt. Whether the stock was going up or down, there was really only one thing investors had their eyes on.
Two words...Sabine Pass
The entire year for Cheniere Energy has meant swinging from jubilation to despair over the future of Sabine Pass. The facility, originally built to import liquefied natural gas, or LNG, has been seeking approval to add an export facility and looking to find partners to trade with. The mere mention of a country interested in importing LNG from Cheniere would send shares skyrocketing.
This year ends with much more certainty than 2010 did for Cheniere's future and the future of Sabine Pass. The company has approval to expand into exports at Sabine Pass and has signed export deals that could secure its future. The deals really kicked off with an agreement with BG Gulf Coast LNG, a subsidiary of BG Group, for approximately 3.5 million tonnes per year in a 20-year deal. Gas Natural Fenosa and GAIL India followed with similar agreements.
There's only one problem with the grand plans Cheniere has in store: paying for it.
Cheniere has completed two public share offerings in the last six months for corporate purposes and is still seeking financing to complete the $4.5 billion to $5.0 billion project. Cheniere Energy Partners (NYSE: CQP ) will own the project, but financing it is another problem entirely.
The consolidated balance sheet of Cheniere Energy shows $2.5 billion in long-term debt and much, much more will be needed to pay for the expansion. With the company reporting losses every quarter, the company is going to have to partner with someone to pay for it, diluting the ownership of Sabine Pass.
If all goes well, construction will begin some time in 2012 with operations beginning in 2015 at the very earliest. That's more than we knew to start the year, but it still leaves plenty of questions for 2012.
As natural gas production expands in the U.S. at firms such as Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) , ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) , and Range Resources (NYSE: RRC ) , the LNG business is in prime position to take advantage of the growth and become a major export. For Cheniere Energy, the only question is how it's going to pay for Sabine Pass and another LNG export facility being discussed in Corpus Christi, Texas.
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