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Benzene hits a floor

Economic growth, Futures trading, Leverage, Oil markets
By Paul Hodges on 21-Nov-2008

Regular readers of the blog will know that it believes price movements in benzene have great predictive power. This is due to the fact that benzene is one of the oldest of the major chemicals, and has the widest industrial usage. Thus in March, when benzene prices hit a “ceiling”, the blog noted this was indicating “that the outlook for commodity petchem profitability has also weakened”.

Now, benzene is giving us another clear signal. Today’s actual crude price is close to $50/bbl. Yet benzene’s current $250/t price implies a crude price of $16/bbl (assuming the usual formulae of an $80/t conversion margin to naphtha, which in turn should be 10 times the crude price). And although anything is possible in today’s markets, it is highly unlikely that OPEC would allow a $16/bbl price to continue on more than a temporary basis, unless we are entering a massive global slump.

Today’s benzene prices are therefore giving us another clear message. Producers are selling on a firesale basis, because they have to clear inventory, in order to meet year-end cash targets. Last March, benzene was telling us that profitability was about to hit a ceiling. Now it is telling us that we are getting close to the floor.