FocusAsia benzene may fall further on weak crude, ample supply

05 February 2010 06:01  [Source: ICIS news]

By Mahua Chakravarty

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Weakness in crude values, along with high benzene supply in Asia, will continue to exert pressure on regional prices of the aromatics product in the near-term, market sources said on Friday.

A near 5% fall of crude prices to $73/bbl (€53.3/bbl) levels overnight rattled the market in Asia on Friday, sending benzene prices falling $30-40/tonne to $915-930/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea at midday.

Offers for March loading fell by more than $20/tonne to $940/tonne FOB Korea, while bids declined a bigger $50-55/tonne $900/tonne FOB Korea from Thursday’s levels.

Benzene is the largest-volume aromatic used to produce a number of petrochemical intermediates such as styrene monomer, cumene for phenol and acetone, cyclohexane and nitrobenzene.

Market participants said they were keeping a close watch on how the crude market would behave to gauge the direction of the benzene market.

“It all depends on crude,” said a source at a South Korean benzene producer.

US light sweet crude for March delivery shed $3.84/bbl on Thursday following the release of a surprise increase in jobless claims in the US, indicating continued weakness of the world’s biggest economy.

Crude’s fall thwarted the recovery of Asian benzene values this week, after plummeting $115-135/tonne last Friday to $910-935/tonne FOB Korea compared to a week earlier. (Please see graph below)

“I am not surprised that benzene has fallen below $950/tonne as prices went up due to crude. It’s natural for benzene to fall when crude falls,” said a Japanese trader.

Meanwhile, high operating rates at crackers and reformers in the region on the back of healthy production margins have kept benzene in oversupply.

“The market is weak … as there is so much of surplus in February and March,” said a source at another benzene producer in South Korea.

Asian traders have been actively trying to export February and March benzene cargoes to the US - a key importer – to get rid of surplus supply, market sources said.

So far, about 50,000-60,000 tonnes of shipments have been fixed for loading in February from Asia, they said.

For March cargoes, traders said they were finding it difficult to fix cargoes due to rapid fluctuation in crude values and in inter-regional prices of benzene.

Meanwhile, scheduled turnarounds at a number of styrene monomer (SM) plants in northeast Asia would likely ease demand for benzene and could further weaken prices, industry sources said.

SM is the key downstream of benzene.

($1 = €0.73)

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By: Mahua Chakravarty
+65 6780 4359

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