China's LPG terminals are brimming in early August after record imports of 2.4 million mt in June were followed by an estimated still-high 1.9 million mt of arrivals in July.
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Recent typhoons and floods have also disrupted, or delayed, cargo unloading and transportation from the terminals to end-users, which was further contributing to bulging stockpiles in the the face of high domestic LPG production, trade sources said.
While stockpiles are seasonally high mid-year, the extremely high levels seen this year may have been what prompted regular importers such as PDH operator Oriental Energy to offer cargoes in the Asian spot market in July, some sources said.
"High stocks in south China are pretty normal. Import volumes in April to June are above 2 million mt into China and the [household] market is entering low demand season," one source in China said.
Other sources noted that PDH plants had raised propane imports after a round of maintenance, helping to boost average PDH runs to 83% in June from 69% in May.
"In East China, inventory is also getting higher, for similar reasons. Usually importers are replenishing inventories in the summer season," the source said. "There is a big typhoon lately causing delays in East China," the source added.
Shanghai and neighboring coastal regions cancelled flights and slowed or suspended subway trains as Typhoon In-Fa made landfall July 25-26, after it made landfall in Zhoushan city, a major port in east coast Zhejiang province. Torrential rainfall in Henan also triggered devastating floods last week.
Trade sources said high inventory would persist through early August, though it may stabilize.
Typhoon In-Fa made landfall twice in Zhejiang province, bringing heavy rainfall to Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces last week that disrupted the discharging plans of some LPG terminals and delayed some buyers' replenishment schedules, market sources said.
Stocks at many domestic terminals were also still high, despite the situation having eased from last week, a domestic trade source said, As a result, it took Shenzhen Sinobenny a few days to unload an LPG cargo last week, the source added.
China's record LPG imports in June were up almost 6% month on month and 42.2% higher year on year, customs data showed.
The country's LPG production at 4.15 million mt in June was up 5.2% on month and up 8.5% on year, National Bureau of Statistics showed, due in part to record-high crude throughput in the month.
Demand fears on COVID-19 surge
Domestic LPG demand in July was dampened by higher temperatures, a pandemic resurgence in several cities and the tighter supervision of natural gas and LPG use after a gas explosion at Shiyan in Hubei province in mid-June, market sources said.
A new COVID-19 case was detected at Nanjing in Jiangsu province July 20 and the outbreak has since spread to more than 300 cases across 15 provinces, state-owned media People Daily reported Aug. 2.
This is expected to impact LPG demand from commercial users, sources said.
"We expect China's LPG imports to move down in July and August as it takes time for some LPG terminals to digest their high inventories," a second trade source in eastern China said.
Another source said imports could be limited and some reselling could occur in August in a bid to draw down stocks, even as major PDH operators enter the next round of maintenance, while regional LPG prices have been on an uptrend.
Wanhua Chemical's PDH plant is due to shut for 30-45 days' maintenance in September, while Oriental Energy plans to shut its two PDH plants and three polypropylene plants in Ningbo in August.
But other sources said LPG imports would remain high as petrochemical sector demand is healthy due to the startup of new PDH plants.
Fujian Meide, Oriental Energy's Ningbo facility and Shandong Huifeng Haiyi Petrochemical started up new PDH plants in the first half of the year, Jinneng Science and Technology is due to start up a PDH plant at Qingdao in Shandong province in the near term that will require 1.08 million mt/year of propane imports, and Henan Nanpu Technology is due to start up a PDH plant by year end that will require almost 200,000 mt/year of propane feedstock, market sources said.
Front-cycle CFR North Asia propane prices have been climbing steadily in recent months, averaging $546.74/mt in May, $615.75/mt in June and $683.69/mt in July, S&P Global Platts data showed. On Aug. 2, front-cycle H1 September delivery propane was assessed at $699.50/mt.
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