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Watch: Market Movers Asia Apr 26-30: Indian demand in focus as COVID-19 cases spike

On this week's Platts Market Movers Asia with Editor Kshitiz Goliya: All eyes on India, the world's third largest oil importer, as surge in coronavirus cases prompted lockdown in several states.

More highlights in the commodities market:

* India's gasoline consumption is expected to drop; wheat prices surge, corn harvest continues; steelmakers divert oxygen supply to meet medical requirements

* Steam crackers enter maintenance season, impacting supply

* Asian demand drives LNG spot prices

View Full Transcript

This week: We'll take a look at why LNG prices are unusually high for this time of the year, the widening spread between benzene and naphtha, and expectations ahead of the OPEC+ meeting.

But first, all eyes are on India – the world's third largest oil importer. The latest surge in coronavirus infections has prompted lockdowns in several states, impacting demand for oil and the movement of other commodities. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the states to focus on containment zones and use the option of a lockdown only as a last resort. Analysts are still hopeful to see India's 2021 oil demand to grow over 2020, BUT the growth may be lower than previous expectations. With several states under lockdown, India's gasoline consumption is expected to drop in the near term. S&P Global Platts Analytics data showed that the country's gasoline demand is estimated to fall to around 700,000 barrels per day in April. That's down about 11% from March. Hopes of recovery gaining traction are pegged from June onwards.

Now while lockdowns are in place, agricultural activities such as corn harvesting are go without disruptions. Still, the spike in cases have led authorities to shut down some markets. This has led to supply tightening and a surge in wheat prices. Domestic demand for sugar has also been hit as bulk buyers remain out of markets, but export demand has remained.

Steel producers are also operating normally. Several steelmakers have diverted their liquid oxygen supplies to meet medical requirements. It's too early to say if the diversion will affect production but the impact could be limited.

Moving on to petrochemicals, Asian steam crackers have entered turnaround season. This is due to last until the end of June. Olefin supplies are expected to tighten, which will in turn likely keep spot prices stable to firm. Meanwhile, the spread between benzene and naphtha prices has widened to a four-year high on the back of a global tightness in benzene supply. Market participants expect the spread to narrow this week, with benzene prices seen to correct. The spread was last wider in February 2017. It has remained above the breakeven level of $150/mt since February this year.

Meanwhile, OPEC+ is set to meet on April 28. The group will review its decision earlier this month to gradually raise its collective output over the next three months. Sources do not expect them to cut supplies again despite the demand concerns from Asia. Bookmark spglobal dot com slash platts to get the latest OPEC updates.

And finally in LNG, Asian spot prices are teasing the nine dollar per MMBtu level as the summer demand season looms. This is an unusually high level for spot LNG at this time of the year. To compare, prices were just at two dollars at this time last year, a record low for the season, as economies were hit by the early waves of the pandemic. Spot prices are currently driven by strong demand from Asian importers.

So for our social media question this week: Do you expect LNG prices to remain high on the back of strong Asian demand? Share your thoughts with hashtag PlattsMM.

China, for instance, is picking up several cargoes to fill new underground gas storage. There's also demand from utilities in South Korea and Taiwan. But this brings us back to the situation in India. The pandemic situation there holds downside risk for the spot LNG market. There are reports of LNG terminals nearing tank tops, and the possibility of a sharp decline in gas demand similar to the decline seen in transportation fuels.

That's it for this week. Thanks for kicking off your Monday with us. Have a great week ahead!