AFPM ’12: Europe phenol supply needs focus as demand improves

02 April 2012 22:08  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ICIS)--Supplies of European phenol need to be well-managed during the second quarter following - and ahead of - planned outages as well as expectations of healthy demand in the second quarter, market sources said on Monday.

“I don’t think the phenol market is really tight, but availability is limited because of the INEOS Phenol outage in April,” a trader said on the sidelines of the International Petrochemical Conference (IPC).

INEOS Phenol confirmed that the Gladbeck turnaround will start on 15 April, with a planned start-up date of 15 May.

The European market has been tight for much of the first quarter because of planned and unplanned turnarounds, as well as “surprisingly” good demand for some phenol derivatives.

However, following the restart of CEPSA Quimica’s plant in Spain and the lifting of force majeure at France’s Novapex facility in France, buyers are more relaxed about the level of phenol available in the markets at present.

Concerns remain about INEOS Phenol and if it will be able to bring its plant back on-stream in mid-May as planned, but a company source said: “There is no reason for the plant not to start on-time.”

Meanwhile, downstream demand remains steady but some sources say it could be better.

In the caprolactam market, a major producer said: “Demand is good and we are pleased. I wouldn’t say it was exceptional, but it’s better than we expected at the end of 2011.”

Similar sentiment was echoed by a maker of adipic acid who described its demand as “reasonable”.

“Customers are now calling for April [volumes] and in Asia we start to see the peak season in the shoe sole sector,” the adipic producer said.

Although the producer was happy with its overall demand so far this year, it added that adipic acid demand for synthetic leather was “not so strong”.

All sources involved in the nylon intermediate markets agreed that the strongest demand was for engineering plastics.

While market sentiment in Europe appears on the surface to be “better-than-expected”, sources on both buying and selling sides expressed concerns about current levels of demand in Asia.

Phenol and acetone prices have been slowly declining in the key China markets because of weak demand, high inventories and expensive feedstock costs and this is also happening in many derivative markets.

($1 = €0.75)

By: Julia Meehan
+44 20 8652 3214

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