Price and market trends: Asia benzene prices may continue falling in near term

17 January 2013 19:50  [Source: ICB]

After reaching record highs in December 2012, a correction is taking place worldwide

Benzene prices in Asia may continue to fall in the short-term, dragged down by weakness in the US and European markets for the aromatics product, industry sources said.

Spot prices in Asia were down for the fourth consecutive trading session, shedding a total of $105/tonne (€80/tonne) as of 10 January. Benzene was at $1,375-1,385/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea.

Some market players in the region are offloading cargoes to lock in profits, traders said. Asia benzene prices have been largely tracking the weakness in the key US market.

"Prices were previously escalating in the last quarter, hitting a fresh all-time high every day in end-December. It is time for prices to correct," a southeast Asian aromatics producer said.

Spot prices in Asia hit a record high of close to $1,500/tonne FOB Korea on 28 December.

"With price uncertainty seen in the US, [the market] sentiment here [in Asia] is not doing any better," a Singapore-based aromatics trader said.

A recent softening in the key downstream styrene monomer (SM) market is adding to the pressure on benzene, market sources said. "We were hoping that benzene prices [will] get support from SM, but SM started to plunge as well," another southeast Asian benzene producer said.

Spot SM prices were at $1,730-1,750/tonne CFR (cost and freight) China on 9 January, down by $15/tonne from the previous day, after hitting an all-time high of $1,800/tonne CFR China on 4 January.

The phenol market, another downstream of benzene, is also performing poorly. Asian phenol makers cut production in view of the rising cost of benzene in the fourth quarter of last year to stem their losses, market players said.

In China, domestic benzene prices are also falling, by yuan (CNY) 100/tonne ($16/tonne) from a week ago to CNY10,700/tonne ex-tank in the south and to CNY10,800/tonne ex-tank in the east, market players said.

"Now domestic prices in China are higher than the international market [prices] for prompt cargoes. But buyers are not ready to buy," a China-based benzene buyer said.

Declining prices across the globe kept buyers quoting much lower bids against current offers, traders said. CFR China cargoes are offered at premiums of $35-40/tonne to FOB Korea shipments, against bids capped at $30/tonne, they said.

Expectations of a demand pick-up will eventually lend support to benzene prices, market players said. "We are not looking at prices crashing," another China-based benzene buyer said.

Spot benzene availability will decrease this year, given heavy expansions in the downstream phenol and methylene di-p-phenylene isocyanates (MDI) capacity.

Market players expect Asia's tight benzene supply to firmly support prices this year, but the downtrend will continue as the pull from other markets is too strong.

"It all depends on how long Europe and US [benzene prices] will continue to fall," a South Korean trader said.

By: Ong Sheau Ling
+65 6780 4359

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