FocusStrong petchem demand to push Asian naphtha higher

05 January 2010 05:27  [Source: ICIS news]

By Felicia Loo

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Asian naphtha prices are expected to climb higher this week, underpinned by China’s strong demand for petrochemicals, traders said on Tuesday.

Open-spec naphtha for second-half February delivery was assessed at $752.50-$755.50/tonne (€519.23-521.30/tonne) CFR (cost and freight) Japan, up $12-$14/tonne on the previous trading day due to a jump in crude futures prices.

Also up was the first-half March naphtha contract, quoted at $744.50-$747.50/tonne CFR Japan, while the second-half March contract was pegged at $739.50-$742.50/tonne CFR Japan.

The crack spread between naphtha and Brent crude futures was assessed healthy at $151/ tonne by midday Asian trade on Tuesday, compared to the 20-month high of $175.95/tonne on 22 December.

“In China, there is higher domestic demand for petrochemicals,” said a naphtha trader in Tokyo, citing brisk trades in aromatics and olefin derivatives.

Besides bullish demand, Asia was also facing low arbitrage supply as frigid temperatures in Europe were hampering shipments to the East, traders said.

Premiums for full-range naphtha were quoted at $20-$25/tonne to published CFR Japan quotes, while open-spec naphtha premiums were at $17-$18/tonne.

Downstream petrochemical prices seem to be racing ahead of naphtha due to strong domestic demand in China, market sources said.

Spot paraxylene (PX) values for February delivery jumped $15/tonne to $1,125-1,135/tonne CFR Taiwan and/or China Main Port (CMP) on Monday after nearly two weeks of trading sideways.

 “I am extremely optimistic for PX through the entire of the first quarter of this year,” said a source from Kuwait Aromatics, a greenfield PX producer.

Kuwait Aromatics had started up its new 830,000 tonne/year PX unit in Shuaiba two weeks ago and the company is expected to export up to 73,000 tonnes of material every month towards Asia.

“What we’ve been hearing from our customers in China, Taiwan and South Korea have all been good news so far,” he added.

A strong performing key downstream purified terephthalic acid (PTA) market was cited by market sources as being one of the key drivers for recent gains in regional PX prices.

Other market sources said that PX price would easily top the $1,150/tonne mark as end-users would be beginning to build inventory for the week-long Chinese New Year in mid-February.

“I’ve already bought a parcel for February arrival last week and we will be looking to buy more these two weeks,” said a source from China East Hope, which runs a 900,000 tonne/year PTA plant in Chongqing.

Tightness in the US and European benzene markets helped fuel the rise in Asian prices, along with strong crude futures and bullish sentiment.

“Everyone is bullish about everything. The market is looking good for the first quarter,” a Japanese benzene trader said.

The lack of March spot parcels dampened traders’ interest to sell, while buyers were more active to book fresh cargoes on expectation of higher benzene numbers in near term, market players said.

“Demand from the derivatives market is picking up particularly in SM [styrene monomer] sector,” a northeast Asian end-user said.

Spot benzene prices for March shipments jumped $40/tonne to $1,080-1,090/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea on Tuesday morning after two days of consecutive hikes, traders said.

Price discussions for February lots were similar to March shipments, they added.

A Chinese major revised the January list price to yuan (CNY) 8,300/tonne ($1,215/tonne) ex-tank, up CNY300/tonne from December, traders said.

Toluene prices moved up in tandem with other aromatics despite weak Chinese demand. Bids for February shipments rose $25/tonne to $935/tonne FOB Korea on Tuesday.

An offer for a 3,000-tonne ethylene spot cargo was pegged at $1,250/tonne FOB SE (southeast) Asia for January lifting, a seller said on Monday. This represents a generous spread to naphtha prices, indicating a wide profit margin for regional steam cracker operators, providing incentive to increase production rates.

($1 = €0.69 / $1 = CNY6.83)

With additional reporting by Loh Bohan and Ong Sheau Ling

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