FocusAsia’s naphtha prices to dwindle on weak petrochemical demand

14 September 2012 05:59  [Source: ICIS news]

By Felicia LooChina’s domestic MMA prices may fall further in the coming months

SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Asia’s naphtha prices are likely to face downward pressure on the back of subdued petrochemical demand, traders said on Friday.

Open-spec naphtha prices rebounded on Friday morning, making crude-led gains after the US Federal Reserve started another stimulus program.

Naphtha prices for the second-half October contract rose by $5.50-6.50/tonne (€4.24-5.00/tonne) from Thursday to $1,000.50-1,003.50/tonne CFR (cost & freight) Japan at midday on Friday according to ICIS data. 

Despite a rebound in prices, the market sentiment is weak as persistently high naphtha prices are squeezing petrochemical margins, traders said.

Naphtha prices lost ground on Thursday, falling by $18.50/tonne from Wednesday to $995-997/tonne CFR Japan.

“Petrochemical end-users are bearish on margins,” said one trader.

On downstream ethylene, buying sentiment remained weak as buyers stayed on the sidelines in anticipation of further price corrections because of easing tight supply conditions for October, traders said.

Ethylene prices were unchanged at $1,270-1,320/tonne CFR northeast (NE) Asia on Thursday, ICIS data showed.

Northeast Asian ethylene margins slipped by $9/tonne to $27/tonne in the week ended 7 September, according to the ICIS margin report.

In view of the lower margins, Japanese chemical producer Maruzen Petrochemical trimmed the operating rate at its 520,000 tonne/year naphtha cracker at Chiba to 85% capacity this month from 86-87% capacity in August.

Thai PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) may reduce operating rate at its 515,000 tonne/year mixed-feed I-4 No 1 cracker at Map Ta Phut to 80% capacity from the current rate of 85-90% capacity, if feedstock naphtha prices continue to rise.

Spot naphtha buying interest from Taiwan’s Formosa Petrochemical Corp (FPCC) may be slim, traders said. FPCC is on track to restart its 1.03m tonne/year No 2 cracker in Mailiao later in the week. The unit, which was taken off line on 15 August, will be restarted on 14 or 15 September but thereafter the company may cut the operating rates at all its cracker, depending on the downstream demand and the company’s exports performance.

FPCC is currently operating the 700,000 tonne/year No 1 cracker and the 1.2m tonne/year No 3 cracker at Mailiao at full capacity. FPCC is Asia’s dominant naphtha spot buyer, importing around 300,000 tonnes of spot material each month but it has been shunning the spot market in recent months on cracker issues, traders said.

The naphtha crack spread for second-half October fell by 11% from 12 September to $127.80/tonne on 13 September, the lowest since 29 August when the crack spread was at $123.33/tonne, according to ICIS data.

The intermonth spread between the second-half October and the second-half November naphtha contracts on Thursday 13 September weakened to its lowest level since 3 September, at a $12/tonne backwardation, the data showed. The backwardation was at $13.50/tonne on 12 September.

The arbitrage window may open, enabling fresh European naphtha supply to flow to Asia, given a bleak European market at this juncture, traders said.

When that happens, the current supply crunch in Asia will ease, they added.

Asia is facing tight supply, largely because of a reduction in Indian naphtha exports by about 30% to 500,000-600,000 tonnes, traders said.

Reflecting a less than bullish naphtha market, Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC) sold 24,000 tonnes of light naphtha at a slightly lower premium in the week.

The cargo was done at a premium in the mid-$30s/tonne to Middle East quotes FOB (free on board). KPC previously sold by tender 24,000 tonnes of light naphtha and 50,000 tonnes of full-range naphtha for loading in early October, at premiums of $38-39/tonne to Middle East quotes FOB.

Additional reporting by Helen Lee

($1 = €0.77)

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

By: Felicia Loo

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