Americas: The week ahead in petrochemicals

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AROMATICS: US spot aromatics were expected to continue to trace energy markers this week as demand lulled. Chemical demand was likely to remain soft from STDP units amid recent margin compression. Margins have been dented by a notable decline in spot paraxylene pricing and more recently, by a decline in benzene, one associated with a surge of pending imports arriving in May. Accordingly, toluene demand was expected to remain confined largely to gasoline blending. The mixed xylenes was expected to remain snug amid thin interest from the downstream paraxylene segment. A narrowing spread between the two products was likely to dis-incentivize running Parex units a higher rates. Paraxylene was expected to remain long in the coming week with pricing struggling to find upward momentum. In the longer term, lower refinery utilization rates were poised to lend some support to the aromatics complex.

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BENZENE AND STYRENE: US benzene prices, if they continue to follow the pattern set in recent weeks, can be expected to take a dive Monday as reopen and see volatile but slight movements through the remainder of the week, tracing oil futures. April benzene on a DDP USG basis closed Friday at the lowest level ever recorded by S&P Global Platts for prompt month at 80 cents/gal DDP USG. May benzene marked an all-time low on Wednesday before recovering to end the week 1 cent higher at 89 cents/gal DDP USG. The closing of the May contract price negotiation period’s trading window on Tuesday could disrupt that pattern, however, leaving the possibility of declines in the second half of the week as well. The May contract price is expected to settle midweek. Demand for benzene from the styrene segment has declined, with plants heard to be cutting rates below 80% capacity in some cases. US styrene prices are expected to see further declines during the week as they follow the path of feedstock benzene. April and May styrene closed Friday at $435/mt FOB USG, $60/mt higher than Platts lowest recorded measures for prompt- or forward-month styrene.


METHANOL: Domestic methanol spot prices are expected to continue to be pressured lower by poor product margins for MTBE, formaldehyde and acetic acid. As a result, regional inventory levels are expected to remain high. The US remains the highest priced market globally, however, and the domestic market remains relatively well supplied still as a result.


OLEFINS: US spot polymer-grade propylene and refinery-grade propylene are expected to be stable to higher this week amid reduced refinery rates due to the coronavirus pandemic. Domestic contract negotiations are expected to settle at a decline for April this week, sources said. US spot ethylene is expected to be stable to higher on the week amid increased downstream polyethylene demand. Domestic contract negotiations are expected to settle this week at a decline, sources said.


POLYMERS: US polyethylene prices are expected to remain flat this week as market participants await May prices. Producers are sold out for April and are waiting to see how transactions will be done for May cargo, so most deals are at a standstill, one trader said. High density polyethylene blowmolding was talked at record lows between 24-25 cents/lb rail car basis and linear low density polyethylene butene was talked at 23-24 cents/lb rail car basis, static on the week as producers try to hold on to current levels, a source said. Low density polyethylene was talked around 36-37 cents/lb rail car basis as downward pressure on market continued last week. In domestic markets, US domestic contract pricing for all three grades is expected to remain tight and available for the rest of April.


VINYLS: Discussions of May pricing for US export polyvinyl chloride were expected to continue and possibly settle this week as buyers and sellers grapple with thin end-use demand amid widely halted construction activity stemming from efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. ’s ongoing countrywide lockdown has thrown some trade flows into turmoil as Asian producers that normally supply seek other destinations, adding competition for flows from the US, and Middle East. US domestic demand has waned as well amid coronavirus pandemic responses, with March housing starts down 25% since January to 1.216 million, according to federal data. Diminished PVC demand has affected its chain upstream, sending ethylene dichloride prices down to an all-time low of $60-$70/mt FOB USG last week. A US PVC offer was heard late last week at $625/mt FAS Houston, $75/mt higher than last week’s assessment of $550/mt FAS based on an April producer-to-trader deal done at that level. Market sources expect May volumes to be priced in the mid-$500/mt range, still above the lowest prices reached during the 2008-2009 financial crash and the 2001 recession.


LATIN POLYMERS: Polymers expect to see one more week of pressure from international markets. Prices could reach its historical all-time lowest for the third consecutive week since Platts started the assessments. In Brazil’s polyethylene market, prices are expected to see $10-$30/mt drops in most of the grades as the US continues to pressure the Latin American market with lower values. The foreign exchange rate started the week under huge depreciation with the real reaching 5.68/$1 on Monday. Domestic pricing policy see two divergent windows for May: limited demand and lower international prices putting pressure in one hand, while on the other the highest exchange rate in the history of the real makes room for hikes or at least . Polypropylene prices are expected lower on week, with some coming from . Prices have also seen downtrend in the US and are expected to see lower values for Brazil and the West Coast of imports. In the WCSA, spot import polyethylene prices are expected to continue highly attached to the US movements on the week, with expected falls for all grades. The PVC market in Latin America is reported with null demand and lack of deals in the past weeks. Very attached to the construction sector, the expectation is for continuously limited activity. In Mercosur, spot pricing new list is expected in the turnover of the month for May bookings. Market is still entirely in lockdown, with limited demand. In , prices are under pressure due to very limited activity in the country. Distributors believe prices could fall for May.

Source: Platts

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