The ICIS Phthalic anhydride reports will keep you informed and up-to-date with market movements in Asia, Europe and the US. Our network of locally-based reporters publish weekly price assessments for spot and contract, depending on the region.
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Updated to Q4 2019
Phthalic anhydride (PA) supply was tight due to a heavy wave of plant turnarounds, affecting more than 300,000 tonnes/year of production capacity across Asia. In addition, regional plants with no turnaround scheduled kept to lower operating rates during the quarter to minimise surplus stocks arising from slow sales.
Demand was seasonally dull across Asia, with most end-users looking to de-stock in the year-end financial closure period. Furthermore, buying appetite was also dampened by persistently pessimistic outlook about regional economic performance. Most users kept to buying strictly on a hand-to-mouth basis.
A series of planned and unplanned maintenance outages including one outstanding FM made for a tighter quarter, with a spell of lengthening in December due to most producers returning to the market. Flake tightened at faster pace due to the smaller amount of production units. Imports from Asia were also limited this quarter. Far Eastern PA producers chose to focus on closer markets to take advantage of rising prices due to knock-on-effects of the crude oil and gas Middle Eastern production curtailments in August.
The limited amount of product available in Q4 eased pressure on those producers who were still selling leaving the market more upbeat on demand. Whereas there was a sharp improvement in buying interest in October, extended demand was felt throughout November mainly due to reduced availability. December was generally a slower trading month, as expected due to incentives to destock ahead of the financial year-end.
Phthalic anhydride (PA) supply fell in the fourth quarter. Both Koppers and Stepan were delayed in restarting after autumn planned maintenance, which decreased available PA volumes despite the typically slower season.
As the construction season ended, downstream demand from products like plasticizers and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) weakened, though in early to mid-December demand was higher than expected, as an aftereffect of limited supply following earlier turnarounds. Global automotive production, a major end-use of PA, was in the doldrums throughout 2019, and continued into Q4.
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Over half the production of phthalic anhydride is used in the manufacture of phthalate esters, employed as plasticisers in PVC. Other major uses are in polyester resins and (decreasingly) in alkyd resins.
Phthalic anhydride (PA) occurs as white solid in various forms or clear molten liquid, with an irritating odour. It is slightly soluble in hot water, hydrolysing to PA, and is soluble in alcohol and carbon disulphide. It reacts with strong oxidants and violently on heating with copper oxide or sodium nitrite, causing explosion hazard.
The major outlet for PA, accounting for just over half of production, is in the manufacture of phthalate plasticisers, the main product being dioctyl phthalate (DOP) which is used as a plasticiser in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
The second largest outlet is in unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) which are usually blended with glass fibres to produce fibreglass-reinforced plastics. Principal markets are construction, marine and transportation.
The third largest outlet is PA-based alkyd resins, which are used in solvent-based coatings for architectural, machinery, furniture and fixture applications.
Small volume uses for PA include the manufacture of dyes and pigments, detergents, herbicides and insecticides, fire retardants, saccharin and polyester resin cross-linking agents.
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