* Egypt expected to launch big new tender, weeks away
* Argentina tender result sets tone
* Pricing varied due to differing cargo grades
By Oleg Vukmanovic and Sarah McFarlane
MILAN/LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Asian liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices sank this week after Argentina's tender result soured hopes of a recovery amid poor demand, while fresh supply began pumping from Australia.
The announcement that Cheniere's landmark U.S. export plant would delay production until March left the market unfazed, March prices tumbled to around $5.60 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), even as some sellers were heard offering at lower levels.
"Regarding March prices, we are receiving offers in the mid-$5's, (it's) hard to track bids as they are moving fast," one trade source said.
"There is very little liquidity, not seeing a lot of transactions but the market seems on the way down," another trader said, adding that Argentina's cargo purchase for March into the Bahia Blanca terminal seemed the best guide.
Argentina's YPF paid a price in the mid-$5 per mmBtu range for its March delivery into Bahia Blanca in a recent tender.
Significant quality differences between LNG cargoes - supply from Australia's new export plants on Curtis Island is leaner than most other available LNG - accounts for some of the pricing variation as leaner supply is cheaper, another source said.
Egypt is preparing to launch a purchase tender for additional supply, two traders said, although a formal notification could still be weeks away.
A trader said Egypt may be seeking 1 year or more of supply even though it is struggling to pay for existing imports due to a shortage of foreign currency reserves.
Nigeria LNG is gauging market interest for spot shipments in February, March and April, adding supply into a weak market, and was heard offering cargoes to some counterparties.
Russia's Sakhalin II export plant is tendering to sell two cargoes in March, sources said, while Papua New Guinea is trying to sell a cargo loading in late February.
Trinidad is said to be exploring further spot shipments. Kuwait has awarded a tender to buy a cargo for its new floating terminal for delivery at the end of February-early March.
Pakistan State Oil has backed out of a nearly $1 billion deal to buy LNG from Royal Dutch Shell after receiving a lower price from Qatar.
The deal shows how top exporter Qatar is being forced to become more competitive in an oversupplied LNG market as it also closes in on a bigger 15-year deal to supply Pakistan with gas.
Australia's AP LNG project started production after minor initial delays. (Editing by Mark Potter)