Intermediates: US cumene contracts leap on feedstocks

20 February 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Higher feedstock costs have pushed February cumene contract prices in the US up by 31% from January.

ICIS assessed the US February cumene contract price at 63-65 cents/lb ($1,389-1,433/tonne, €1,042-1,075/tonne) FOB (free on board), up 15 cents/lb from January's assessment of 48-50 cents/lb.

Buyers and sellers confirmed the price, but added that some contracts will continue moving throughout the month, tracking prices for feedstocks refinery-grade propylene (RGP) and benzene.

Benzene prices rose by 50 cents/gal in February in the contract market, and spot prices are trading close to contract value.

Spot RGP prices started February between 63-64 cents/lb, an increase of 19.5 cents/lb from the start of January.

A cumene producer told ICIS that the feedstock costs need to be passed downstream to phenol-acetone producers, and that demand levels are solid enough to absorb higher costs.

However, demand for cumene is expected to continue falling. Phenol-acetone producers are running their plants at lower rates because of weak export demand, particularly from Asia.

US phenol exports were strong last year, totaling 573,471 tonnes, an increase of 24% over 2010. However, volumes tapered off late in the year, and December exports of 52,788 tonnes were down 19% from the year-ago period.

US acetone exports for 2011 actually declined 4% from 2010, to 364,626 tonnes, the decline again greatest late in the year.

Market sources noted that cumene supplies will tighten, putting upward pressure on prices if Sunoco's 545,000 tonne/year Philadelphia cumene unit in Pennsylvania is shut down in July, as most players in the market expect.

Sunoco has announced that if a buyer for the plant cannot be found by July, it will be closed.

Major US cumene producers include CITGO, Flint Hills Resources, Georgia Gulf, Marathon, Shell Chemical and Sunoco.

By: Clay Boswell
+1 713 525 2653

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