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Updated to Q3 2019
Supply was sufficient for most parts of the second quarter, but increased towards late May and June because some downstream producers started to cut their operating rates. This was amid a squeezed toluene-benzene price spread. Limited maintenance plans during the second quarter resulted in ample supply as well.
Demand was mixed in the second quarter owing to poor downstream production spreads in northeast Asia and sporadic gasoline blending demand opportunities in southeast Asia. Mostly slow import demand from China, except in May, contributed to this fluctuation as well. Demand from India was regular as there was limited change in the downstream solvent sector.
Revived output from two Mediterranean plants (Italy’s Versalis and Petrogal’s Portuguese refineries) boosted toluene availability after a slight tightening effect earlier in the year. Strike action at the Porto site had limited impact. There was a localised, short-term supply impact from the power outage at INEOS’ Dormagen refinery in Cologne on 17 May, which produces toluene and mixed xylenes via the pyrolysis gasoline (pygas) route, with restarts over the following week.
Chemical demand for toluene was stable or muted, though firmer in the context of BASF’s major TDI plant restarting in 2019 after its late 2018 shutdown. Demand from benzene – made with toluene via the hydrodealkylation (HDA) process – continued to be questionable. Benzene- toluene spreads have been negative for more than a year, at times near -$200/tonne. Buying in the toluene market got a short-term boost on concern over INEOS’ May Dormagen outage.
Toluene supply lengthened as refiners increased operating rates in preparation for the summer gasoline season and as previous shipping logistics concerns were resolved, allowing for increased imports from Asia.
Demand for toluene for the gasoline blending sector was boosted by preparations for the summer gasoline season. Lengthening supply put downward pressure on the market, pushing prices closer in line with the blend value, discouraging producers from extracting the aromatic from the gasoline-blending pool for sale in the chemical market. Demand for toluene for on-purpose benzene and paraxylenes (PX) production waned.
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