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AMERICAS: The week ahead in petrochemicals

POLYMERS: US polyethylene prices are expected to remain stable in the week that started Sept. 21 based on limited to no offers, sources said.

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Few PE grades are available as the marketplace is "horribly tight and every single major pulled out of exports," one trader source said. Market participants continue to discuss notional pricing even though offers are limited and are unable to sell in the competitive overseas markets.

Meanwhile, in US polypropylene, the market is expected to continue to manage inventories amid tight supply from suppliers. Pricing is expected to remain firm in the short term for spot exports. Platts assessed the homopolymer injection Sept. 16 up 1 cent at 53.5 cents/lb ($1,179/mt) on a FAS Houston basis on talk of increased pricing. ExxonMobil Chemical Company will increase the price of its polypropylene products by 3 cents/lb as of Oct. 1, the company told customers. Braskem Americas Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA and Formosa Plastics USA have announced a 4 cents/lb increase in the price of its polypropylene products as of Oct. 1.

OLEFINS: Domestic butadiene contracts are expected to be nominated at an increase during the week, sources said. Spot Choctaw ethylene is expected to continue stable to higher amid cracker outages and maintenance.

VINYLS: US export PVC prices were expected to remain at a nine-year high of $1,045-$1,055/mt FAS Houston in the week with no incremental volumes seen available amid two ongoing force majeures. Formosa Plastics USA declared FM for US PVC on Aug. 14 after an extended upstream chlor-alkali turnaround left ethylene dichloride stocks depleted. Westlake Chemical declared FM on PVC and upstream VCM on Aug. 31 after Hurricane Laura caused widespread damage in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where the company operates a complex that houses 46% of its chlor-alkali output and 38% of its VCM production. Other producers have had to turn away Formosa and Westlake customers seeking export and domestic volumes. Upstream, spot EDC availability also was expected to remain largely nil with output either designated for downstream PVC production or contract sales.

AROMATICS: Recent strength seen in prompt mixed xylenes prices is expected to continue during the coming week as production outages on the Lower Mississippi River and Lake Charles, Louisiana, continue to squeeze already-tight supply. The historic number of tropical storms forming in the Atlantic Ocean have impacted some refineries on the US Gulf Coast, including Citgo's Lake Charles refinery, a key producer of US aromatics. Latest projections show most of this lost capacity returning in mid-October at the earliest. Toluene prices, on the other hand, have not seen as much of a boost from the shutdowns, with almost no demand for spot volumes, a picture which should remain the same through the winter barring further production issues.

Continued trading toward the October benzene contract price should boost liquidity, though demand for benzene has been constrained due to another hurricane-related outage at Westlake Chemical's styrene unit in Lake Charles. Potential imports from Europe, where two styrene producers have turnarounds this autumn, would further increase supply. Renewed interest in exporting US styrene to India, Turkey, and especially East Asia should provide strength for prices heading into the next week.

METHANOL & MTBE: US methanol prices are expected to hold to the previous week's high level, with price support heard from increased buying activity ahead of Q4 domestic methanol contracts. Additional price support is expected to come from a planned maintenance period at a Trinidadian methanol production facility, which could see imports into the US limited in coming weeks. Demand has also been heard to be rebounding for end-use derivative products of methanol.

For US MTBE, prices are expected to be stable to higher on the week, with increased export demand for barrels into Mexico and Latin America. Increased demand for US barrels has also been heard in Northwest Europe, where blenders are increasingly turning to US volumes for gasoline blending to export to West Africa in a crude-for-products swap program. The return of production at Indorama's Port Neches, Texas, facility following power outages associated with Hurricane Laura could add downward pricing pressure to spot MTBE with the return of some supply to the market.

LATIN AMERICA: Latin polymers are expected to see stability for the second consecutive week in the imports markets of Brazil and the West Coast of South America. The foreign exchange rate started the week unfavorable to the Brazilian Real, reaching 5.42/$1 on Sept. 21. Domestic prices are expected to be unchanged for the week – but expected higher for October, while sources continue to report lack of availability of some products in the domestic market of Brazil. Polypropylene prices are expected to be stable to slightly higher on the week, following small increases coming from Asia and Middle East - Brazil and the West Coast of South America imports mostly come from Asia and Middle-East if compared to the US. In the WCSA, spot import polyethylene prices are also expected to continue highly attached to the US movements on the week, therefore expected to be unchanged or slightly lower on week, depending on the availability of products in the market.

The PVC market in Latin America is expecting to see higher prices considering higher prices in Europe and Asia, reflecting on imports to mostly to Brazil, reported tight on material. The WCSA is mostly attached to the US, which reached a nine-year high of $1,050/mt FAS Houston last week. Product is still unavailable in most of the markets – very limited availability from the US for exports, which could continue to drive prices higher. In Mercosur, spot pricing new list was already expected for September bookings for several weeks now, but distributors reported not receiving new prices due to almost none product availability in the market. In Argentina, prices are expected to remain stable on the week while some distributors are already anticipating a possible increase for October.