ICIS publishes week reports on the methanol markets in Asia, China, Europe and the US. Our trusted and reliable independent reports cover contract and spot markets in Europe and the US, and spot activity in Asia and China.
Market news and intelligence are analysed by our reporters in each location, and the information is reflected in market commentaries that include overviews, regional updates, production news, crude oil developments, plant capacities, graphics and shipping information. These reports are a valuable tool to allow you to keep up-to-date and abreast of factors driving prices, and ensure you are fully informed while making commercial choices.
Updated to Q4 2019
Ample methanol supply in Asia received a slight reprieve in the fourth quarter, due to a few major plants’ unscheduled shutdowns. Most Asian markets remained well-supplied, and buyers had little need to purchase spot. China’s coastal inventories finally saw significant drawdowns during the quarter after levels were at record high levels for most of the year. Southeast Asia was the most affected by Petronas’ shutdown, but the supply tightness was not fully felt yet.
Demand did not see much change for most of the year and was relatively stable in the fourth quarter as well. Some buyers were concerned with taking in the remainder of their term allocations by the end of the year while others focused on new term discussions for 2020 at the start of the quarter, resulting in limited spot discussions. The southeast Asia minor ports also saw less demand from the key Indonesian biodiesel industry.
Supply swung from long to balanced and back again in the fourth quarter. Third-quarter maintenance in the Middle East and Russia failed to dent availability in Europe. Some US production disruption had little impact on European supply, despite some interest in exports. Inventories were healthy in key import and storage hub Rotterdam, with one source noting late in the quarter that its usual sellers were having difficulty placing spot volumes. Destocking was also taking place due to the year end.
Stable-to-weak demand contributed to spot prices remaining near a three-year low in the fourth quarter and limited extra spot buying interest came from end-users. By December, globally lengthy supply and weak European demand were underscored by year-end destocking. Europe’s economic pains drove weaker formaldehyde demand and the automotive downturn. Interest in exports was noted, including to the US, not usually typical from Europe’s mainland, though it has been seen from nearby origins such as Libya.
Supplies of US methanol were readily available to meet demand in Q4 despite some production issues at the country’s largest methanol facility. Despite stronger exports seen in early 2019, US methanol exports have tapered off. US methanol exports were seen as significantly lower in Q4 compared with the previous year, largely attributed to the global oversupply issues and market weakness.
US methanol demand was somewhat subdued in Q4, with the number of spot trades tapering off during the quarter. Spot prices in the US rebounded from the three-year lows seen mid-year, which was largely attributed to global oversupply and less a reflection of demand.
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Methanol is primarily used to produce formaldehyde, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and acetic acid, with smaller amounts going into the manufacture of DMT, MMA, chloromethanes, methylamines, glycol methyl ethers and fuels.
Methanol is a colourless, volatile and flammable liquid with a characteristic odour. It is soluble in water, ethanol, ether and most organic solvents.
It is primarily used to produce formaldehyde, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and acetic acid, with smaller amounts going into the manufacture of DMT, MMA, chloromethanes, methylamines, glycol methyl ethers, and fuels.
Methanol is seeing growing demand in fuel applications such dimethyl ether (DME), biodiesel and the direct blending into gasoline.
It also has many general solvent and antifreeze uses, such as being a component for paint strippers, car windshield washer compounds and a deicer for natural gas pipelines.
Methanol can also be used to extract, wash, dry and crystallise pharmaceutical and agricultural chemicals.
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