FocusChina benzene to remain weak in near term on soft demand

29 August 2011 08:58  [Source: ICIS news]

China refinery in Wuhan, Hubei provinceBy Ariel Chen and Crystal Zhao

SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Benzene prices in China’s domestic market may stay soft in the weeks ahead because of sluggish demand from downstream sectors, given current low production of styrene monomer (SM), cyclohexane and aniline, market sources said on Monday.

In eastern China, deals and discussions were heard at yuan (CNY) 8,200-8,300/tonne ($1,283-1,299/tonne) ex-tank on Monday, largely stable from Friday's close, according to Chemease.

Spot transactions have been limited in recent weeks, with prices stagnating, as end-users are just lifting contract volumes, market sources said.

Scheduled maintenance at a few SM plants in China has affected benzene demand.

Shanghai Secco’s 650,000 tonne/year SM is currently undergoing scheduled maintenance that will last up to the middle of September, said a company source.

In October, Shuangliang Petrochemical will shut down its 400,000 tonne/year SM unit for a turnaround, said a company source.

Meanwhile, production of aniline - another downstream sector for benzene - is quite low, with plants running at around 40-50% of capacity, market sources said.

There is less availability of spot benzene supply in China which would be supporting the market if it were not for the weakness in demand, industry sources said.

Benzene supply in China has tightened following a slew of refinery shutdowns by producers such as CNOOC, Urumqi Petrochemical, Shanxi Yanchang and Maoming Petrochemical.

But prices in the domestic Chinese market may get a boost towards the end of the year, given a host of downstream plants due for start-up next year that will increase demand for benzene, industry sources said.

Chongqing Fuxiang Petrochemical expects to start production at its 200,000 tonne/year adipic acid unit in the first quarter of next year, while Shanxi Yanchang Petroleum will commence operations at its Shanxi-based 140,000 tonne/year SM unit at the same period.  

From the caprolactam sector, demand for benzene is also expected to be boosted by a new 200,000 tonne/year caprolactam plant of Zhejiang Hengyi Petrochemical that is due to start up in the first quarter of 2012.

Guangdong Kingboard will also likely raise its benzene consumption as the capacity of its Yizheng-based 120,000 tonne/year phenol facility will be increased by 80,000 tonnes/year in 2012.

($1 = CNY6.39)

Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s blog – Asian Chemical Connections

By: Crystal Zhao

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