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Americas: Week ahead in petrochemicals

US petrochemical prices are expected to remain steady this week, though some markets could move higher on a combination of supply issues and geopolitical concerns.

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METHANOL/MTBE

US methanol supply remains tight, with at least two methanol facilities offline in the Gulf Coast. Heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East could cause prices for methanol heading to Asia to continue to strengthen on supply tightness, providing additional price support for US methanol. Downstream, MTBE prices could remain strong on the continued outage of a Gulf Coast facility despite an expected weakening in demand from Mexico moving into the first half of the year.

AROMATICS

US benzene prices are expected to remain firm in the near term as supply-side conditions remain snug. Prices are expected to hold steady as recent strength in the European benzene prices is lending support and imports remained limited. Participants noted that South Korean benzene exports to North America remained curtailed in December and this was lending further support to pricing. Partially offsetting the supply constraints is continued limited demand from the downstream styrene segment. Prompt spot styrene prices were expected to be flat or higher amid thin margins related to a stronger January benzene contract price. Toluene prices are expected to remain relatively firm and continue to be influenced by reformate pricing as sellers look for higher premiums to reformate. Blend values are likely to set the floor for both toluene and mixed xylenes amid limited demand for MX from the PX segment.

VINYLS

US export PVC prices were expected to remain in the settled January range of $760-$770/mt FAS Houston this week amid limited export volume availability ahead of Formosa Plastics' PVC and vinyl chloride monomer turnaround at its Point Comfort, Texas, complex next month. Export volume availability also was seen to be tight because Westlake Chemical continues to work to bring online a PVC expansion at its Geismar, Louisiana, facility. Market participants expect activity in Asia to slow leading into the Lunar New Year holidays later this month as well. Upstream, the ethylene dichloride market was expected to remain thin as sellers continue pushing pricing in a range of $240-$250/mt FOB USG, which buyers say is unworkable for Asia-bound material.

POLYMERS

US polyethylene exporters will continue to grapple with industry-wide price increases that were applied and then revised lower at the end of last week. Exporting higher-priced resins – particularly to Latin America – has been deemed challenging by players in the polymer space. Sellers must manage higher-than-expected re-supply costs and growing inventories. Meanwhile, domestic buyers are eyeing continued contract negotiations for January with expectations of higher prices to start the year and potentially through the first quarter, sources said. Brazilian polyethylene and polypropylene markets are expected to find support from international prices over the coming week based on increases in the US and in Asia. On the West Coast of South America, spot import polyethylene and polypropylene prices are also expected to rise in the coming week due to the increases in the US and in Asia.

OLEFINS

Spot US propylene prices are expected to remain stable as domestic supply remains long. Spot ethylene prices are expected to strengthen on increased buying interest.