Africa polymer spot prices stabilise on uncertain outlook

18 February 2010 17:40  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS news)--Polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) spot prices in Africa may have reached their peak after making gains of $80-180/tonne (€58-131/tonne) from the start of 2010, as a result of limited availability, sources said on Thursday.

Spot prices, particularly for low density PE (LDPE) and copolymer PP, had rocketed following stronger sentiment in Asia, mainly in the key Chinese market, which had pulled substantial material from the export market into the region, leaving supply into Africa short.

This, coupled with globally reduced output and soaring feedstock costs, had pushed spot prices to levels similar to those seen in 2008, local sources said, despite hesitant buying interest throughout Africa in previous weeks.

According to global chemical market intelligence service ICIS pricing, the largest gains were seen in the northern African copolymer PP market, where limited supply to the region had pushed prices up by $180/tonne, climbing from $1,220-1,250/tonne CFR (cost and freight) northern Africa at the beginning of 2010 to stabilise at $1,400-1,430/tonne CFR northern Africa.

However, the ongoing Chinese Lunar New Year holiday has now put the breaks on the upward movement in Africa, leaving the direction of the market to remain a hot topic for debate.

Some suppliers were confident that the upward trend would regain momentum, highlighting that numerous outages, planned or otherwise, in the Asian and Middle Eastern markets would continue to constrain availability, while demand was expected to improve as the industry entered its traditionally stronger season.

As a result, a number of sources were already talking of increases of up to $60/tonne in both markets in March.

“Once the dust in China has settled and we can see what buyers in that region are doing, we will be able to announce our price ideas,” said one major Middle Eastern polymers producer. “We think prices will be stable at a minimum or could increase $50-60/tonne depending on what Asia does…They will not decrease.”

However, with the availability of both PE and PP increasing due to new production coming on stream in the Middle East, there was some speculation that PE and PP prices in Africa had reached their ceiling for 2010.

“The prices of PE reached a peak in the last week and are now stable. We expect the price trend will continue to slow down due to more supply and low demand in [Africa],” said a large Middle East-based manufacturer.

“In some regions, [the price of PE] went down $10-20/tonne [in the past week],” added the source.

However, this was largely considered to be possible only because of higher priced business, and not reflective of the entire market.

($1 = €0.73)

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By: Stephanie Wilson
+44 20 8652 3214

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