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Europe, Asia tackle PET supply length, US to remain short

Highlights

Feedstock capacity additions affect PET sentiment

US to remain net short amid delayed mega-plant

London — The European and Asian polyethylene terephthalate and polyester markets will present a bearish outlook in 2020, led by capacity additions in Asia, slowing global economies and trade tensions. The US, on the other hand, looks set to remain a net importer of PET due to the delayed start-up of a mega-plant.

ASIA FACING RISE IN SUPPLY, CHALLENGES IN UPSTREAM MARKETS

Market expectations point to bearish sentiment in 2020 due to supply length, slowing global economies and weaker feedstock prices.

The Asian PET profit margin was calculated at around $27/mt in the first half of 2019 ahead of the traditional peak season, but turned negative from July to October, averaging minus $1/mt, amid lackluster demand, S&P Global Platts data shows.

Rising supply will continue to weigh on Asian PET prices in 2020.

Chinese PET capacity has hit around 10 million mt/year, and three new startups expected by 2020 will increase this by 1.7 million mt/year, Platts data showed. Producers in Vietnam are also adding around 650,000 mt/year of capacity.

The Chinese polyester yarn and fibers market has grown at a steady rate of 5-7% in recent years, according to market sources and Platts data. To satisfy this, 1 million-2 million mt/year of new polyester yarn and staple fiber plants are planned by H1 2020 in China, according to sources.

Despite this growth, market sentiment is bearish due to weak upstream PX, PTA and MEG markets. Increased supply will add to uncertainty already there due to trade tensions and slowing global economies.

This will lead to reverse integration by major Chinese polyester makers, which some sources expect to happen in 2020, in order to create feedstock cost advantages. This may put non-integrated polyester producers in Asia and globally under pressure.

With demand for PET and polyester in the region expected to reain weak into 2020, Asian producers will need to continue to seek export opportunities, particularly for PET. In 2019, Europe was a ready buyer, but with the US remaining net short in 2020, Asian exporters may look there instead.

US COULD BE OUTLET FOR ASIA SUPPLY LENGTH

The US is likely to remain a net PET importer in 2020 after the start-up of a large-scale PET plant was postponed to 2021. The US imported around 2.2 million mt of PET in 2018.

This was set to change in 2020, with the slated start-up of a 1.1 million mt/year PET plant near Corpus Christi, Texas, with an associated 1.3 million mt/year purified terephthalic acid plant due to start up a year later in 2021.

However, co-owner Indorama's revised schedule released in early November showed the PET complex now coming online between Q4 2021 and Q1 2022.

With the US staying as a net importer, it retains bandwidth to absorb added expansions in Asia in 2020.

Impact from the recycled-PET market will also likely be small in 2020 and is not expected to dent virgin volumes significantly There is progress in this field, namely, Indorama's joint venture with Canada's Loop Industries to provide sustainable polyester resin for beverage and consumer packaged goods companies, targeted for Q1 2020 but US collection and recycling rates remain too low to provide significant amounts of R-PET to measurably displace virgin PET in 2020.

The key focus in the US, therefore, will be the source of its PET imports and the impact it brings to local prices.

EUROPE CAUTIOUS OF YEAR AHEAD

European market participants welcomed an easing of volatility in the feedstock market at the end of 2019. Consumers took the opportunity to forward book material for Q1 2020 delivery, locking in multi-year low prices.

Whether prices stay like this depends on how the paraxylene and monoethylene glycol markets react to extra capacity slated for the end of 2019 and 2020. Further supply length, mainly in Asia, will lead to further bearish feedstock prices and will hurt PET sentiment and prices.

Significant volumes were imported from China in 2019 as Chinese producers sought to balance their market. This trend may continue but Asian exporters may also look to the US as an export market.

The first quarter of 2020 may well be a quiet quarter as consumers have already booked material. In the second quarter, all eyes will be on weather forecasts for spring and summer. Producers would like to avoid building too much stock, having been caught out in 2019. Europe therefore may take a more cautious approach to pre-demand season stockpiling.

Attention on recycled PET is stronger than ever in Europe and will affect sentiment in the virgin market. However, volumes remain relatively small and it is not seen as the biggest threat to virgin demand in the short term, sources have said.

-- Benjamin Brooks, benjamin.brooks@spglobal.com

-- Miranda Zhang, Miranda.zhang@spglobal.com

-- Kristen Hays, kristen.hays@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Fox, jonathan.fox@spglobal.com