Here’s a quick look at the factors driving petrochemical markets in Asia this week.
Asian paraxylene prices were buoyed by a strong rebound in crude last week, but may retrace some of the hike this week as a stronger US dollar applies downward pressure on oil prices — possibly reducing upstream support. In the downstream segment, a major Chinese purified terephthalic acid plant is due to undergo two weeks of maintenance in end-March, which would increase PX supply in the market.
Meanwhile, Asian benzene saw weakness last week as demand waned in light of the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays. End-users were also heard to have covered most of their requirements for March, stymieing buying interest this week. High domestic inventories within China and competitively priced domestic cargoes are also likely to deter import interest. Discussions are still expected to be thin this week with a rebound likely only after the festive season where supply will be tighter with turnarounds scheduled.
In upstream toluene, demand in China is also expected to remain weak as most buyers have already procured cargoes ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. More cargo arrivals to East China ports this week — estimated at 8,000 mt — will add to inventory pressure and weigh on buying interest. In the FOB Korea market however, tighter supplies amid turnarounds planned in March may offer support.
Asian ethylene and propylene fell under selling pressure last week ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday season. Nonetheless, market sources said both markets were near their bottom as spot supplies for March are expected to be tighter compared to February because of heavy steam cracker turnaround season.
In downstream monoethylene glycol, traders expect prices to remain supported moving forward, as they said sellers would likely accumulate stocks on expectations that prices would peak after the Lunar New Year holidays. Trade was hampered by Chinese port closures last week along the Changjiang river due to inclement weather conditions. Operations were heard to have resumed late last week.
Butadiene and synthetic rubber spot activity are expected to slow as Chinese market participants prepare for the Lunar New Year holidays. Most restocking activity has been finalized ahead of the holidays and feedstock requirements for February have been covered while March discussions are only expected to take off after the holidays. The market is expected to find support from steam cracker and butadiene turnarounds in February.
Asian MTBE firmed last week, tracking the uptrend in European markets that is expected to extend into this week on the back of firm gasoline demand from West Africa and Latin America. This, along with a healthy reforming spread, will provide support for Asian prices and the MTBE factor going forward.
In methanol, prices dipped last week in reaction to incoming supply from the Middle East. Nonetheless, prompt prices remained buoyed on low inventory levels of approximately 300,000 mt in China — keeping the steep backwardation in the market structure firmly in place.
Asian low density polyethylene strengthened last week on tight supply, with several Middle Eastern polyethylene plants due to shut between February and April for maintenance. The flurry of turnarounds is expected to continue keeping sentiment buoyed this week.