FocusStrong petchems inventory build-up in China limits trade

17 March 2010 07:10  [Source: ICIS news]

By Pearl Bantillo and Mahua Chakravarty

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--A buying frenzy of petrochemical products at the start of the year filled up China’s storage tanks, forcing trade to slow this month, industry sources said on Wednesday.

The much sought-after bonded warehouses were also almost full in Taicang, Jiangyin, Taizhou in eastern China, while the same problem beset ports in the southern parts of the country, they said.

The products were stuck in tanks as earlier expectations of higher prices in March and strong demand post the Lunar New Year holidays in late February failed to materialise, market sources said.

Demand was steady while prices of select products had started to fall due to high availability of the material, market sources said.

For toluene, inventory levels in eastern China were at a six-year high at 150,000 tonnes in recent weeks, local traders said.

Trading of the material had considerably slowed, with some sellers scouting for Chinese buyers but no bids surfaced, market sources said.

“I don’t know if there is a buyer on CFR basis because getting tank space is an issue these days,” said a local trader.

Within the domestic market, toluene buyers preferred to purchase in smaller lots due to ample availability, said local traders.

In eastern China, ex-tank values of toluene slipped to CNY6,700-6,750/tonne ($981-988/tonne) ex-tank seen on Tuesday from around CNY7,200-7,250/tonne on 22 February, according to data from global chemical market intelligence service, ICIS pricing.

Isomer and solvent grade xylene inventory levels were estimated at 100,000 tonnes in eastern China, while another 35,000 tonnes were lying in tanks in southern China, traders said.

Acetone inventory in eastern China was estimated at around 35,000-40,000 tonnes this week, about four times bigger than what it was before the Lunar New Year holidays and has been exerting downward pressure on prices, market sources said.

Spot prices for acetone softened $10-20/tonne to $930-1,030/tonne CFR (cost and freight) China last Friday, according to global chemical market intelligence service ICIS pricing.

For isopropanol, stocks in eastern China were at their highest level this year at more than 10,000 tonnes, while inventory level in southern China was close to 7,000-8,000 tonnes, industry sources said.

Chinese domestic prices were discussed at CNY10,200-10,400/tonne ex-tank in the east, while in the south, prices were talked at CNY10,200/tonne ex-tank

Meanwhile, a shortage of migrant workers may be partly to blame for the slow activities at some factories in southern China right after the Lunar New Years, some market players said.

Some people working at factories of consumer goods could have shifted to the construction and infrastructure sector that offers better incentives, industry sources said.

Ramping up operations at southern China manufacturing facilities, which should boost demand for petrochemicals, could not push through given a shortage of workforce.

With contributions from Heng Hui, Liu Xin and Ong Sheau Ling

($1 = CNY6.83)

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By: Pearl Bantillo
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