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Singapore — Amid further weakness in the upstream crude oil prices, Asian petrochemical prices may continue to see downward pressure this week. Monday saw ICE Brent crude oil futures dipping below $60/b and in some petrochemical markets, the prices already started to fall Monday morning.

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OLEFINS

Asian ethylene would likely remain bearish this week, pressured by further weakness in demand amid plunging western crude oil futures. January ethylene supplies are seen to be ample as the healthy ethylene-naphtha spread would likely keep the steam cracker operation rates in Asia high. The Asian ethylene-naphtha spread hit a 2-month high of $552/mt last Friday.

The Asian propylene market dived to a 15-month low last week Friday at $89/dmt CFR China, tracking the slump in crude futures and a supply glut. Chinese buyers continued to shun imported materials as domestic materials were abundant and cheaper as Chinese propane dehydrogenation plant were producing at high operating rates.

The Asian butadiene market outlook for the week ahead remains bearish with some uncertainty, as few buyers are expected to seek cargoes for their December requirement. However, demand from China is expected to be thin as import prices are now more expensive than domestic prices.

Burgeoning stocks are likely to weigh on methanol prices in China and India this week. Tanks in East China and Kandla in India were heard to be full and buyers were not keen to import methanol. With demand unable to mop up the excess supply, the Indian and Chinese sellers are likely to discount stock to clear space. While this should impact Southeast Asia and Korea markets, sources say these two markets are relatively supported by healthy downstream demand.

AROMATICS

Asian paraxylene prices tumbled $78.66/mt over the last week to close Friday at $1,035.67/mt CFR Taiwan/China, driven lower primarily by falling Western crude oil and naphtha prices.

With the potential for further price falls in upstream markets this week, market participants would be preparing for further volatility in this market as well as in other aromatics markets. For example, PX-feedstock isomer-grade mixed xylene also fell last week by $71/mt to $717/mt FOB Korea and by $63/mt to $744/mt CFR Taiwan on Friday.

Meanwhile in benzene, the week on week drop was not as steep, shedding $23.66/mt on the week at $654.67/mt FOB Korea. However, demand for FOB Korea cargoes continued to be thin, amid a closed arbitrage for cargoes to head from South Korea to the US. With the volatility in Chinese domestic prices, the arbitrage between import and domestic cargoes was said to be "unreliable," resulting in lukewarm demand for CFR China cargoes.

POLYMERS

Asia polypropylene prices declined in the week, on the back of falling demand led by futures in China. Most buyers preferred to wait and see, expecting prices to drop further in the coming weeks. Block copolymer imports were gaining more buying interest than the raffia grade, sources said, with some sources estimating an imports requirement growing at a rate of 7-8% per annum in Asia.

Asian high density polyethylene was largely stable on the back of thin trading. In plant news, The UAE's Borouge will shut its 1.5 million mt/yr Borouge 3 cracker and downstream polyethylene units in Abu Dhabi for 50-60 days of maintenance in the first quarter of 2019, the company source said. Borouge will also shut the downstream polyethylene plants linked to the cracker during the same period.

INTERMEDIATES

The Asian purified terephthalic acid market also faced downward pressure, as it declined $70/mt week on week at $840/mt CFR China Friday after the steep fall in crude oil futures and upstream Asian paraxylene decimated buying interest. Buying is reportedly scant in both China and India market and the remaining buyers in India were now buying in smaller lots of 500 mt instead of the usual 2,000 mt, to minimize price volatility

--Melvin Yeo, melvin.yeo@spglobal.com

--Edited by Liz Thang, elizabeth.thang@spglobal.com