Asia benzene down on oversupply, likely dip in overseas markets

09 April 2010 07:33  [Source: ICIS news]

By Mahua Chakravarty

Europe Feb benzene to fall on weak sentiment, Asia spotSINGAPORE (ICIS news)--The Asian benzene market has fallen $25/tonne (€19/tonne) in the last two successive trading sessions as sentiment dipped due to ample regional supply and expectations that the US and EU benzene markets could soften in the coming days, traders and producers said on Friday.

Spot values for May loading cargoes were hovering at $985-995/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea on 9 April, $25/tonne lower than the 6 April level, according to global chemical market intelligence service ICIS pricing.

Prices slipped in the past two days partly due to crude values easing to $85/bbl from the early-week spike, traders said.

Benzene prices had increased $30/tonne at the start of this week to $1,010-1,020/tonne FOB Korea compared with 2 April, supported by hikes in crude values to above $86/bbl.

In the current spot market, parcels for June lifting were fetching a premium of about $5/tonne compared with May loading lots, market participants said.

"Everyone is expecting that there would be a drop in [benzene prices in] other regions," a northeast Asia-based trader said, referring to market expectations that additional volumes from Asia could ease the supply tightness in Europe.

The European benzene market spearheaded an uptrend in the two other regions in March due to tight supply.

Some regional traders had taken a long position and were trying to export cargoes to the US and Europe in this quarter, which was expected to push up the stock levels in these regions and impact prices, the trader added. However, no confirmation was available.

In April, 30,000 tonnes or more of cargoes were expected to leave Asian shores for the US, while 20,000 tonnes were expected to be loaded for Europe, market participants said.

Asia is a net exporter to the US and Europe, with an estimated 40,000-50,000 tonnes shipped every month to the US on contract and spot basis.

"The Asian market was overheated, even when there is still surplus here," a Korean producer said, referring to the price hikes in March driven by increases in Europe.

Another reason for the price rise in the past few weeks was the efforts by traders, who wanted the price to be high, when the market was fundamentally not strong, the producer added.

Asia’s supply has been high since the beginning of this year as regional crackers and reformers were operating at high rates on the back of strong margins. This resulted in Asian exporters fixing or shipping about 150,000 tonnes of benzene to the US in the first quarter, market participants said.

Meanwhile, demand from the downstream styrene monomer (SM) segment had slowed down since February and was expected to last through April due to a slew of turnarounds in northeast Asia, they added.

SM is the largest downstream for benzene within Asia. About 50% of the regional benzene output is used for SM production.

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


($1 = €0.75)

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By: Mahua Chakravarty
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