Asia petchem trades slow down ahead of week-long China holiday

28 September 2012 06:07  [Source: ICIS news]

By Pearl Bantillo

Fireworks at ChinaSINGAPORE (ICIS)--Trades across all petrochemical products in Asia slowed down this week as purchases from the region’s biggest importer – China – ground to a halt ahead of the country’s week-long National Day celebration, industry players said on Friday.

“Chinese customers are completely quiet. We are not pushing customers to buy now as they have no intention to buy and just want to wait until after the holiday,” said a regional trader of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The Chinese markets will be closed on 1-7 October for its annual festivities.

In the Asian propylene market, most end-users retreated to the sidelines, even as regional sellers and traders lowered offers to entice buyers.

Selling ideas for propylene fell below $1,400/tonne (€1,078/tonne) CFR (cost and freight) China this week, but buying ideas were capped at $1,350-1,380/tonne CFR China.

The same quiet trade persisted in the polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), methyl methacrylate (MMA) markets, with players hoping to negotiate the bulk of October cargoes after the holidays.

Trades in the maleic anhydride (MA) and phthalic anhydride sectors are, likewise, lacklustre.

Meanwhile, restocking activities in the polycarbonate (PC) market is being tempered by weak end-user demand, affecting trades in upstream bisphenol-A (BPA), market sources said.

Purchases of epoxy resins – another derivative of BPA – also slowed down as some buyers have stocked up sufficient inventory in the previous weeks, while those in downstream coatings industry are planning to halt production during the holidays, they said.

In the oxo-alcohols market, producers maintained their offers in the absence of buyers while hoping for a strong pick-up in trades after the holidays.

Phenol prices are also stable this week, with no fresh deals reported, as there are very few buyers venturing into the market ahead of the holidays in China, market sources said.

Despite the lack of buying interest, phenol sellers are reluctant to adjust prices down because there is limited availability of prompt cargoes amid ongoing and upcoming maintenance shutdowns at regional facilities.

Phenol prices were assessed at $1,440-1,485/tonne CFR China Main Port (CMP) on a zero anti-dumping duty (ADD) basis, subject to 5.5% import duty, on 21 September, according to ICIS.

While buyers are expected to return to the market after the holidays, the phenol price trend will largely hinge on crude oil and feedstock benzene prices, as producers' margins have been squeezed during the last month because of high production costs. Suppliers are hoping to push through price increases on phenol in coming weeks.

At the same time, the start-up of a new phenol/acetone facility in Shandong, China, in November is expected to exert downward pressure on price indications.

In the methanol market, the bid-offer levels are at $365-368/tonne CFR (cost & freight) China this week but no deals were concluded as most buyers took a backseat ahead of the Chinese holidays.

Trading is also subdued in the glycol ethers market as most customers have built sufficient inventories in earlier weeks, with prices expected to remain stable.

ICIS assessed glycol ether prices at $1,650-1,700/tonne CFR China in the week ended 26 September.

Within China, some styrene monomer (SM) facilities have shut down production ahead of the holidays, affecting demand for feedstock benzene, which may soon be in oversupply following recent restart of shut facilities.

Sinopec Tianjin Company’s aromatics unit that can produce 400,000 tonne/year of benzene, as well as Panjin Ethylene’s 180,000 tonne/year benzene unit resumed operations this month.

On Friday, some SM offers are at CNY12,700-12,800/tonne, while bids stood at CNY12,500/tonne ex-tank Zhangjiagang, an east China-based trader said.

Buyers are unwilling to stock up too much amid the weak market sentiment, market sources said.

On 27 September, domestic SM prices in east China were assessed at yuan (CNY) 12,500-12,600/tonne ex-tank Zhangjiagang, down by CNY250-300/tonne from 21 September, according to Chemease, an ICIS service in China.

“Buyers stocked up at the beginning of the week, which pushed prices up. However, with the coming of the holidays, some industries sources left the market in advance, so the prices went down,” an east China-based trader said in Mandarin.

Demand for petrochemical products in China has been weakening, in line with its economic slowdown, as can be gleaned from recent statistics from South Korea, which counts its northeast Asian neighbour as a major export market.

Manufacturing activities in China, the world’s biggest economy, are weakening as its major export markets in the West continue to hurt from their respective financial and economic problems.

China’s economy is expected to expand at a decelerated pace of 7.5 % this year from a 9.2% clip in 2011, amid a prolonged debt crisis in the eurozone and the continued weakness in the US economy.

Additional reporting by Feliana Widjaja, Judith Wang, Samuel Wong, Andrea Heng, Hazel Goh, Christina Siantar, Gabriela Wheeler, Dolly Wu, Viola Pan, Helen Han, Echo Chen, Doris Shen, Elisa Fu and Natalie Hui

($1 = €0.77)

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

By: Pearl Bantillo
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