FocusAsia benzene to stay firm on tight supply of prompt cargoes

13 September 2012 06:17  [Source: ICIS news]

By Jasmine Khoo

Busan port in South KoreaSINGAPORE (ICIS)--Asia’s benzene prices have gained by 6.8% since the start of the month and look set to remain firm on limited supply of prompt cargoes, and strong values of upstream crude and naphtha, industry sources said on Thursday.

At midday, spot benzene prices were assessed at $1,245-1,255/tonne (€971-979/tonne) FOB (free on board) Korea, up by an average of $80/tonne from $1,170 FOB Korea in end-August, according to ICIS.

“It is likely that prices would remain firm, especially since SK Energy is having a turnaround in October. Supply would continue to be tight, maybe until November,” said a northeast Asia-based producer.

South Korean SK Energy is planning to shut its Ulsan-based reformers early next month for 30-45 days of turnaround. The reformers have an estimated total benzene capacity of 470,000 tonnes/year.

In Japan, JX Nippon Oil’s two reformers in Mizushima that produce 120,000 tonnes/year of benzene have been down since July, along with the company’s refinery. Some liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanks at the company's Mizushima B refinery failed to meet the Japanese government’s safety standards and had to be shut.

In Europe and the US, problems in domestic production may also lead to stronger demand for Asian benzene, further tightening supply in this region.

A window for arbitrage trades to the US narrowly opened last week, market sources said. Asian benzene prices may spike if more cargoes are moved to the West as regional supply is drying up.

For September, some 69,000-70,000 tonnes of benzene from South Korea were exported to the US. But the volume of shipments is expected to fall to around 50,000-60,000 tonnes in October, according to market participants.

Northeast Asian benzene producers have either very little inventory left or completely sold-out on cargoes for September and October, market sources said.

Southeast Asian benzene producers, on the other hand, do not have surplus to sell to the spot market, and are just producing enough to fulfil term contracts, they said.

The shortage of prompt benzene cargoes, occurring at a time when crude and naphtha prices are on rise, has heightened speculative trades that have been driving up benzene prices in spite of weak demand.

At midday, US crude was trading at above $97/bbl, while Brent crude was at more than $116/bbl, while naphtha prices stood at $1,012-1,015/tonne.

Benzene demand from major downstream sectors – styrene monomer (SM) and phenol – remains soft, with regional facilities currently operating at an average reduced rate of 70-80%, according to market players.

A northeast Asian-based SM producer complained about squeezed margins as current benzene prices are too high. Rather than risk losses by buying benzene at high prices, the SM producer is more inclined to cut output.

($1 = €0.78)

Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan’s blog – Asian Chemical Connections
Request a free ICIS sample report for the latest prices and development in the Asian petrochemical markets

By: Jasmine Khoo
+65 6780 4359

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