US olefins participants were focused on declining propylene prices heading into this week. Prompt polymer-grade propylene spot prices ended Friday afternoon at 35 cents/lb FD USG, which were the lowest prices seen this year so far. However, following the Platts Market on Close on Friday, trading moved even lower, falling below the 35 cent/lb level. Trade sources mostly attributed this decline to the recent buildup in domestic inventory levels and weakness in feedstock propane values last week as well. The decline in PGP spot levels comes ahead of February contract settlements, and may factor into a lower settlement later this month, according to trade sources.
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Talk of increased demand for US polypropylene (PP) exports should influence spot prices later in February, perhaps starting as early as this week according to trader sources. Demand for PP was limited in 2018 due to elevated US prices, but the combination of lowered feedstock prices, especially last week, plus the anticipated increase in demand for PP should yield a change, sources said. In the polyethylene (PE) sector, buyers will be looking for contract pricing direction amid proposed price hikes from several US producers, sources said. Most feedback has been centered on a lack of fundamental support for higher prices due to months of rising production and weakening sales. However, there have been signs in recent weeks that at least part the proposed increase could be accepted should domestic buying improve, sources have said.
In Mercosur, polyethylene (PE) buyers are likely to continue searching for an import price floor amid ongoing trade tensions between China and the US, which has served as the preferred origin for the region, sources have said. Local producer Braskem enters the week with stable domestic prices in Brazil after issuing a reduction to begin February, a company source said. Braskem's price cut last week came about due, in part, to pressure from weakening import prices in recent months, the source added. Buyers along West Coast South America market expect to continue seeing stable to lower offers on spot cargoes of PE, mainly from the US and regional Latin America producers, sources said. Market participants kept mentioning that the current US-China trade tensions is generating volatility in pricing and is affecting commercial decisions. Traders, on the other side, believe pricing has arrived to a floor where buyers feel comfortable to trigger purchase orders. tensions is generating volatility in pricing and is affecting commercial decisions. Traders, on the other side, believe pricing has arrived to a floor where buyers feel comfortable to trigger purchase orders.
US export polyvinyl chloride prices were expected to remain in a range of $790-$800/mt FAS Houston this week, where most February deals settled early last week. Market participants were looking to Asian producers' March offers to be announced in the coming days, which sources expected to be stable from February pricing amid tight supply and relatively weak demand. US market sources said export PVC pricing was expected to remain stable this month despite limited export volume availability given lingering weak demand in key global markets, such as the Middle East and North Africa. Upstream, ethylene dichloride export volume availability remained tight as well, while caustic soda pricing remained under pressure given the continued reduction of capacity to 50% at Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumna plant in Brazil. Last week Norsk Hydro CEO Svein Richard Brandzaeg said during the company's quarterly earnings call that the decision of when the company can ramp back up to normal rates was "very much" in the hands of Brazil's federal court system, which still has embargoes in place holding output to 50% and use of a new bauxite residue storage area.
Spot benzene prices were poised to remain relatively steady in the near term amid curtailed demand from the downstream styrene segment and amid continued market length. Sources anticipated that the market would remain in a contango structure with March and April holding a premium to prompt barrels. Sources noted that the contango structure was associated with the restart of America's Styrenics production at St. James, Louisiana, a move sources anticipated would bolster demand. Liquidity in the US benzene market was poised to remain thin this week prior to increasing as the market enters the contract period. Downstream, spot styrene prices were likely to remain firm with tight supply in the US expected into Q2.
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