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Total Expands Its LNG Footprint

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Low debt and an attractive valuation aren't the only things that Total  (NYSE: TOT  ) has going for it. Sure, sales, margins, and earnings may have declined lately, but let's look beyond the latest numbers. The company recently penned a deal that illustrates how its strategic vision may lead to a very bright future.

Total moves into Asia
According to a company press release, Total has signed a 10-year sale and purchase agreement to supply 0.7 million tons per annum, or MTPA, of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to a subsidiary of Pavilion Energy. The deal will supply LNG to markets in Asia, including Singapore, starting in 2018. Philippe Sauquet, President of Gas and Power for Total, said that the agreement reinforces the company's strategy to expand LNG trade in the region, thus meeting the growing energy demand of the Asian market.

That market is huge. Sources cited by Total note that in 2012, Asia took 71% of worldwide LNG output, or more than 167 million tons. "In areas where there is no domestic production or pipeline network to import gas, LNG is the sole source of supply," the company's website explains.

An LNG industry leader
Total is a big player in the global LNG market. In 2013 it produced 12.3 million tons, or over 5% of the prior year's world output of the chilly liquid. This recent deal with Pavilion not only secures an outlet for almost 6% of Total's production for years to come, but does so in a very lucrative part of the world for LNG.

Total has interests in ten liquefaction facilities and is a partner in two more under development. Four other such projects are under study. It is developing capabilities in the newest LNG technologies such as subsea cryogenic pipelines and floating liquefied natural gas, or FLNG, vessels. Its trading, marketing, and logistics businesses allow the company to offer its gas and LNG directly to customers, while taking advantage of changing market opportunities.

Total's trading floor, courtesy of Total

That last part may sound like meaningless corporate-speak, but the trading operation is really kind of cool and interesting. According to its site, Total has some degree of control over about 70 of the world's 366 LNG carriers, or about 19% of the global fleet. By constantly monitoring such factors as local LNG demand, price levels, transportation costs, risks, and currency fluctuations, Total's traders were able to divert 43% of their LNG cargos to more profitable destinations during 2012.

Total spreads the wealth
Although Total produces and ships its own gas, it also buys LNG from other producers such as Cheniere Energy  (NYSEMKT: LNG  ) through its master limited partnership, Cheniere Energy Partners  (NYSEMKT: CQP  ) . Total has already agreed to purchase 2 MTPA of LNG from Cheniere's Sabine Pass facility, the only new U.S. liquefaction plant currently under construction in the U.S. The agreement is for a 20-year period and is for production from train-5 of the facility, scheduled for completion in 2018.

Cheniere is another company making big bets on the future of LNG. It recently secured a sale and purchase agreement with Gas Natural Fenosa, a leading European utility, for 1.5 MTPA of LNG from its other planned liquefaction project in Corpus Christi, TX. Gaining access to global markets through companies like Total will be key to Cheniere's success. As energy giant Total moves more aggressively into the world LNG market, smaller companies like Cheniere stand to win as well.

A Foolish look forward
As the world seeks more flexible supplies of energy, the market for LNG will only grow. Watch energy-hungry markets in Asia, especially those without existing overland pipeline supply. There are several ways for investors to latch onto the growth in LNG demand, either through worldwide producers and shippers like Total, or through builders of new production facilities like Cheniere. 

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Scott Percival

Scott has been a trading instructor at Fidelity Investments and has traded for his own account since 1989. He currently contributes Foolish articles on the energy industry.

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