Southeast Asia MA stable; weak demand to dilute cost pressure

Author: Ai Teng Lim

2019/12/05

SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Southeast Asia’s maleic anhydride (MA) import discussions were flat as upside pressure from rising feedstock costs is mitigated by low buying interest.

Such a buy-sell wrestle could drag on for some time, market participants said, since strong feedstock costs would mean sellers have no room to lower offers, but buyers are unlikely to respond favourably given their bearish outlook on demand prospects downstream.

Deals for December-shipment supplies of northeast Asia-origin materials were range-bound at $940-960/tonne CFR (cost and freight) southeast (SE) Asia, market sources said.

On 29 November, MA prices settled at the same range, five weeks in a row, ICIS data shows.

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For sellers, especially those tapping on butane as feedstock, this was far from ideal as their bottomlines are at stake, considering that costs have jumped substantially.

December contract prices for butane have risen to $455/tonne FOB (free on board) Ras Tanura, up from $360/tonne in September, on seasonal increase in demand from heating requirements.

"To make it worse", buyers have not just rebuffed MA makers’ attempts to hike offers, but also turned around to “press for more discounts”, a seller lamented.

This also “underscores buyers’ pessimism about demand conditions in their own downstream markets”, another trader said.

MA is used to produce unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) which goes widely into sectors like marine construction and automobile.

The automobile industry is one sector badly affected by the global economic slowdown this year. For instance China, which is the world’s largest car market, is struggling with a straight-line decline in production and sales of vehicles since July 2019.

The protracted US-China trade conflicts have also eroded consumer confidence, denting optimism of any near-term demand recovery.

In such a climate, MA sellers may have to “content with slow sales and depressed margins for some more time to come”, a seller conceded.

Focus article by Ai Teng Lim

Photo: The automotive sector is one of the key downstream industries for MA. (By Wu Hong/EPA/Shutterstock)

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