PODCAST: Asia benzene bolstered by supply issues, firm Chinese import and buoyant US sector

Author: Jasmine Khoo

2021/03/04

SINGAPORE (ICIS)--Asia’s benzene prices have been on an upswing since the start of the year, along with the general petrochemical complex, as an inflation bias appeared to have set into global markets.

Massive stimulus engaged by governments worldwide to combat the effects of the pandemic had mitigated the worst of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

However, another effect of monetary stimulus is rising asset prices, most evident since the fourth quarter of last year in rising prices of stocks and commodities.

As the vaccine-led economic recovery continues, supply chains have restarted but continue to meet bottlenecks, inefficiencies and disruptions after a near complete shutdown.

The Asia benzene market faces a similar backdrop but several other factors contributed to its price uptrend as well.

  • Southeast Asia plants’ unplanned shutdowns in February: PTT No 1 aromatics in Thailand, Nghi Son Refinery & Petrochemical in Vietnam and Hengyi Petrochemical in Brunei.
  • Strong import demand from China as plants/factories resume production quicker than previous years as output rate was higher with more workers available, given the central government’s urging of citizens to refrain from travelling back to hometowns for the Lunar New Year in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Strong downstream markets and sectors in China fuelled consumption of benzene.
  • Polar storm in the US cut availability, resulting in higher US prices. Given that Asia is a net exporter of benzene to the US, prices in the region similarly rose and the arbitrage window closed.
  • After a spectacular run-up, prices could trade sideways or even correct downwards in the near term. The consolidation could last weeks or even into the second quarter.
  • However, with an inflation bias build into the global system, and the vaccine-led recovery expect to continue, petrochemicals and benzene could start another leg higher from mid-year, if not sooner.

In this episode of the ICIS Asia podcast, Senior Editor Jasmine Khoo speaks with Clive Ong, editor in charge of the Asia-Pacific benzene market on the recent developments.

Click here to listen to the podcast