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Americas: The week ahead in Petrochemicals

  • Author
  • Matthew Cook    Staff
  • Editor
  • Derek Sands
  • Commodity
  • Petrochemicals


Spot benzene prices are expected flat to lower, with some participants anticipating a decline following the settlement of the February benzene contract.

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The contract is poised to increase with prompt spot values during the second half of the month, averaging nearly 11 cents above the January contract settlement of 253 cents/gal.

Supply is expected to remain tight on the back of reduced imports since Q4 of last year.

Downstream, spot styrene prices are expected to remain firm as availability constraints worsen with a planned maintenance by Americas Styrenics, sources said. Derivative demand from the PS and ABS segments is expected to continue to lag in the near term.

Toluene demand is expected to remain confined largely to commercial-grade material, with STDP margins continuing to hover near $36/mt. Blend values are likely to remain soft after falling nearly 17 cents last week to close Friday at just above 206 cents/gal.

Mixed xylenes demand will likely remain muted amid increasing length in the downstream global paraxylene market. Both mixed xylenes and toluene are poised to remain tight in the near term with multiple producers expected to take maintenance in Q1.

In paraxylene, the US market was likely to see continued pressure amid expectations that Zhejiang will bring its second 2 million mt/year PX line up by the end of January.


US polyethylene export pricing continued to climb last week on tightened supply for LDPE and LLDPE coupled with firmer producer to trader pricing to start the year.

Despite an uptick in inventories throughout the region and limited export options – including buyers hitting the sidelines in Asia for Lunar New Year celebrations – pricing has risen about 4 cents ($88/mt) from December. Domestically, US buyers are expecting an increase in spot and domestic contract pricing in January and are also eyeing a potential firmer February.

Similarly, polypropylene players are dealing with higher-priced resin, which could breach the sub-40 cent railcar price last seen in December on increased levels from producers. Feedstock monomer has become disconnected according to participants amid a rollover in contracts for propylene and a hike in polypropylene pellets throughout the month.


Negotiations for February export polyvinyl chloride pricing are expected to begin in earnest this week as tight supplies are expected to elevate offers.

Incremental January volumes have already sold in a range of $780-$790/mt FAS Houston, up from the initial January settlement range of $760-$770/mt FAS, as upcoming turnarounds and operational issues have prompted multiple producers to either offer sharply reduced volumes or bypass selling into export markets altogether for February.

Market participants expect February pricing to reach or surpass $800/mt FAS, with momentum that could last into March. In addition, US producers are seeking 3-5 cents/lb price increases for domestic PVC in January, and most are seeking an additional 3 cents/lb price increase for domestic material for February as well. The supply-driven export PVC price strength could spread to domestic markets as well.

Upstream, caustic soda prices were expected to linger at $200/mt FOB USG amid global price weakness, while ethylene dichloride prices could inch up on stronger Asian pricing.


The Brazilian polyethylene market is expected to see higher prices driven by the international market over the week, considering higher values reported in the US, while polypropylene is expected to see some pressure from the US and stability from Asia.

On the West Coast of South America, spot import polyethylene prices are also expected to see higher values during the week, following price movements in the US, while polypropylene is expected to see higher prices as most of the WCSA imports are US-origin.

In Mercosur, the spot price was unchanged for PE and PP last week and local players expect a new pricing list for this week, with higher values for February.

In Argentina, prices are expected to see some change for February bookings after stability in the past week.


The outlook for January spot ethylene prices is bearish as Sasol is expected to sell more spot volume following the shutdown of their Lake Charles LDPE plant, overwhelming the spot ethylene market, trade sources said.

US January propylene contracts settled last week at a rollover, or 33 cents/lb. Spot polymer-grade propylene is expected to hover around 28.5 cents/lb, where it reached a near four-year low last week and has remain unchanged since.