LONDON - Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices hit a record high this week as Japanese and Korean buyers secured supply ahead of winter, narrowing the price differential with Europe.

Russian gas flows to Europe via Nord Stream 1 are at 20% of the pipeline's capacity and uncertainty over a complete halt is supporting a hefty risk premium on gas prices in the region, where a heatwave is further deepening the energy crunch.

In Asia, the average LNG price for October delivery into north-east Asia was estimated at $57 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), up $9, or 18.8%, from the previous week, industry sources said.

This exceeds Reuters estimated record levels seen in December at slightly over $48/mmBtu.

"Spot bids cased a rally mid-week, but had a slight retrace. October interest and delivery appear top priority for Japan and Korea for the time being," Toby Copson, global head of trading and advisory at Trident LNG, said.

"North Asia is still concerned about stockpiles going into winter so we're likely to see further highs as we approach peak heating season and associated tightness," he added.

The jump has resulted in a contango, where a futures price is higher than the spot price, with prices for the peak winter months now above $62/mmBtu.

Edmund Siau, LNG analyst at consultancy FGE, said that Asian buyers in emerging economies are being priced out on the back of high prices, while in China, economic data this week showed industrial production missing expectations, which is bearish for the country's LNG demand in the short term.

European gas hub prices hit the $70s/mmBtu level, widening the differential to North Asian LNG cargo prices closer to $15/mmBtu, Ciaran Roe, global director of LNG at S&P Global Commodity Insights said.

S&P Global Commodity Insights assessed LNG prices on a delivered ex-ship (DES) basis into north-west Europe (NWE) at $59.934/mmBtu on Aug. 18, a discount of $12.20/mmBtu to October TTF prices, Roe said.

Spark Commodities, assessed the Northwest Europe's LNG DES prices for September at a discount of $13.855 to the TTF price, a record low for the 4th week in a row. It said that double digit discounts are seen across the front 3 months.

European cargo prices narrowed the differential to Asia over the week as both regions compete for winter volumes, Roe said.

LNG freight Atlantic spot rates were estimated by Spark Commodities on Friday at $70,500 per day, rising 18% form last week as the market starts to tighten ahead of the winter, while Pacific rates stood at $56,750 per day.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Alexander Smith)