FocusAsia toluene faces further downside on crude and supply glut

21 May 2010 07:53  [Source: ICIS news]

By Mahua Chakravarty

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Asia’s toluene values were likely to decline further in the near term, after touching an eight-month low this week, because of weak trend in crude futures and a supply glut in the region, traders said on Friday.

Toluene prices in Asia were notionally assessed at $750-765/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea on Friday morning, steady from Thursday, as no buy-sell indications surfaced, according to global chemical intelligence service ICIS pricing

Trading has been extremely slow for more than a month as buyers and sellers were on the sidelines, fearing a sharp fall in prices or expecting that the market might recover or rebound, said traders.

But with crude values dropping significantly this week and other key aromatics like benzene plunging subsequently, expectations of a rebound seem to be fading fast as toluene prices dropped $75/tonne from 14 May to the current levels. 

“[And] I think toluene prices will fall more,” said an east China-based trader and importer.

Most traders and producers expected a further decline in prices as crude futures were descending and the overall sentiment in the aromatics market had weakened.

Toluene prices in Asia have been under pressure since March as demand from China, Asia’s largest market, ground to a halt due to record-high inventory levels in the domestic market.

After more than two months, the supply glut has worsened and current inventory level in the key east China market has touched a fresh record-high at 200,000 tonnes, traders said.

Stock levels were rising instead of getting depleted as every month China was importing an estimated 40,000 tonnes on term contract basis, local traders said.

Demand had slowed down too as buyers preferred to wait or buy in smaller lots, they added.

In 2010, term cargoes to China were estimated to be about 10,000-20,000 tonnes more than the previous year, on the back of an estimated surge in demand during summer months, a trader added.

A surge in Chinese imports from end 2009 and slower than expected demand from the downstream in China, especially from the gasoline blending segment, has resulted in the current stock build-up.

Due to the weak scenario in the regional market, domestic market prices were also falling this week, traders said.

“Some traders [holding back stocks] will try to liquidate cargoes soon as there is pressure due to financial and storage issues,” said a Chinese trader, and added that this would likely result in Chinese yuan prices falling further.

The glut in China had led to an increase in supply in South Korea and there were offers from desperate Korean sellers to Chinese importers this week, although finding tank space was a challenge and there were ample offers for resale cargoes by importers, said traders.

($1 = €0.80)

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By: Mahua Chakravarty
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