Americas petrochemicals outlook, w/c March 11


US olefins participants said there was more downward pricing pressure in the market as they await confirmation of the Westlake/Lotte chemical ethane cracker in Lake Charlies, Louisiana, coming online. Trade participants also said they expected Enterprise Products’ dehydrogenation unit in Mont Belvieu, Texas, to be back to normal operations this week. The company said last week in a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that an air compressor and waste heat boiler had tripped at its 750,000 mt/year PDH unit Wednesday, which resulted in flaring. The filing also stated that the flaring at the PDH was expected to last until the morning of March 9.


On the heels of steadying spot prices for polymer-grade propylene, US polypropylene might soon experience an uptick in demand, according to market participants. Although inventories for remained near record-high levels, spot prices have flattened since dropping below 33 cents/lb on February 20. If prices find a floor, export activity could increase from this week. Sources said that spot prices in the mid-40s cents/lb FAS Houston was the range for business to get done.


Market activity was expected to pick up this week throughout Mercosur after last week’s Carnival celebrations in led to widespread industrial shutdowns and reduced trader participation, sources said. Polyethylene import markets in Mercosur could be especially busy due to a growing sense that a price floor has been reached, or will soon, sources said. On the polypropylene front, buyer interest remained week amid bearish global sentiment, with Mercosur markets described as oversupplied, sources said. The region will continue to monitor feedstock propylene prices in the US, which typically have an impact on prices throughout South America. Import PP buyers will also be looking for fresh offers from Asia and the as on-the-water cargoes from both regions were previously offered lower and not in line with consensus market prices, sources said. Brazilian producer Braskem was likely to remain a competitive option for several key South American markets, with recent feedback pointing to prices in line with, or below, current import offer levels, sources said. Along West Coast South America, market activity was expected to increase after a series of vacation and industry breaks, sources said. Market participants continued to watch the current US-China trade negotiations, while buyers continued with their hand-to-mouth strategy, sources said. Traders said prices have arrived at a floor where buyers would trigger purchase orders, but buyers continued to watch the US market for market signals such as production and inventories, sources said.


US export polyvinyl chloride prices were expected to be stable in a range of $785-$795/mt FAS Houston this week as the US market looks to Asia for direction. Asian market sources said Asian PVC would likely remain bearish, with April offers expected to be lower than March levels. An ongoing review of India’s anti-dumping duties on PVC from the US, China and Thailand has muted demand there, and several US market sources said they do not expect those duties on US material to be lifted. US sources also said they expected a decision on the duties to emerge after India’s general elections next month. The domestic PVC market accepted a 2 cents/lb price increase announced in February, and was mulling a second 2 cents/lb increase this month. Domestic PVC prices had been flat since April 2018. Several market sources were skeptical that the market would accept another increase, given healthy stocks and feedstock ethylene at a six-month low of 15.125 cents/lb FD USG as of Friday, per S&P Global Platts data.

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US spot benzene prices were expected to face continued downward pressure amid continued market length. Sources said that February imports were higher than anticipated, with some estimates putting US February benzene imports at as high as 130,000 mt. This comes at a time when downstream demand has been limited, with a major US styrene producer in turnaround. Sources expected Americas Styrenics to return from a planned 45-day turnaround at its St. James facility by mid-month. However, a second US Gulf styrene producer was expected to go into maintenance in late March, keeping the US styrene market snug and muting benzene demand in the process. Styrene values were expected to remain firm and sources noted that any continued upward movement would be contingent on strength in and Asia.

Source: S&P Global Platts