Is it better to be right for not quite……

Business, China, Europe, Middle East, Olefins, Polyolefins, Projects, US

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……all the right reasons than to be wrong altogether?

Sounds a dumb question, perhaps – unless you take particular pride in being one of those know-it-alls.

The point I am trying to make (and assuming that chemicals pricing doesn’t collapse beforehand on a broader retreat in crude and equites on maybe panic over swine flu or the realisation that a global economic recovery is a long way off) is that I have thought for a while that the fundamentals point to a major price correction from June-July onwards because of:

*New supply from the Middle East. Surely, yes surely, there will be more capacity hitting the market in H2 as PetroRabigh ramps up output – even if YanSab, Sharq and perhaps even the new cracker in Qatar – are effectively pushed into next year

*A lot of new supply in China. My colleagues at CBI Research & Consulting are working on an update of the subtantial amount of additional capacity due on stream in H2, including Fujian Petrochemical & Refining (the latest world on the start-up of which is July)

*The end of the May-June petrochemical turnaround season in Asia

*An increase in naphtha supply (as much as 20-30% in Asia, according to Purvin & Gertz) as a result of higher production from two new condensate splittlers in the Middle East and greater naphtha exports from India

*A I said, my belief that everyone will have to wake up to the fact that the global economy, including China, will not enter recovery in 2009 or perhaps even in 2010. I remain worried about the quality of China’s growth (is it too production rather consumption-driven?), how much stimulus-package money has been wasted on speculation, including in building chemicals inventory, and the possiblity that China – directly or indirectly – might start exporting deflation

But today I spoke to some goods contacts and friends at a leading petrochemicals trading company who gave the following additional reasons for their long-held view that prices would tank in July:

*US and European producers upping operating rates in response to strong arbitrage opportunities. The Europeans have already raised rates, apparently, and the US more recently. In the case of propylene, though, stronger demand for refinery-based C3s from several derivative producers might, perhaps, make further US PP shipments unworkable

*Strong interest in shipping petrochemicals from the US and Europe to Asia for arrival after May (all May business was concluded around 20 April). Cargoes could be at sea and uncommitted just as the shift in fundamentals listed earlier starts to take effect. Big quantities have already been shipped from the West to East during Q1, including very large amounts of BTX and polyolefins. Around 200,000 tonnes of US and European benzene is heading for Asia for March and April arrival, according to DeWitt & Co. China imported 114,000 tonnes of benzene in March alone, which compares with just 328,000 tonnes for the whole of 2008 – an average of 2,733 tonnes per month. The surge in toluene shipments from the West to China is equally dramatic: China received 66,000 tonnes in January, 77,000 tonnes in February and 94,000 tonnes in March compared with a 2008 total of 273,000 tonnes.

Inventory pressures in the West have been relieved and some of the big losses suffered in Q4 have been recouped (and some of the traders seem to have done very well indeed).

So batten down the hatches once again.

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