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Updated to Q3 2020
Supply in northeast and southeast Asia decreased. At least two producers in northeast Asia shut their plants for turnarounds of 1-2 months, skipping some of their tenders over the past two months. Another southeast Asia producer also shut its plant in mid September for planned maintenance. Due to squeezed margins, some producers also lowered operating rates. Few spot offers were available to Asian buyers in the market as a result of reduced supply.
Demand in Asia decreased. Chinese importers were sidelined amid lacklustre domestic ex-tank prices. In southeast Asia and India, slow downstream demand and the ongoing pandemic stopped the market from seeing any improvement. Regionally, the worsening pandemic and unstable upstream oil prices caused great uncertainty. Poor margins on the distributors’ side further hindered demand in the import market.
Supply in Q3 started ample. Low demand, idle spot activity and low prices influenced producers to run at very low levels, which resulted in supply becoming more balanced in the latter part of the quarter. Rhine levels fell to as low as 76cm but there was no major disruption to supply. The arbitrage window on west bound trans-Atlantic routes remained mainly shut, but a few fixtures emerged partly due to hurricanes in the US that disrupted plant operations.
The economics to produce benzene using toluene remained in negative territory during Q3. Demand from the gasoline blending sector was hurt by lockdowns and competition from other blending agents. The traditional rise in consumption during the summer driving season did not have a large impact this year due to travel restrictions. A series of planned TDI shutdowns in Europe tightened the market and limited some toluene consumption.
Toluene supplies were mixed during Q3 as global oversupply concerns and weak downstream economics became more prevalent, only to tighten by September as hurricanes forced the closure of some toluene production facilities in the US Gulf Coast region. Since the height of the pandemic, producers saw some toluene supplies steadily decrease while others kept volumes in storage amid a cautious economic recovery.
Demand for toluene in Q3 showed little strength since the markets gained gradually starting in Q2. While refiners produced necessary volumes to meet contractual obligations, most toluene went straight into transportation fuel manufacturing instead of as a feedstock into benzene and MX production via TDP units. Spreads with downstream commodities barely recovered even after the refinery shutdowns were announced in the aftermath of US Gulf Coast storms.
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