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US acetone prices hit record highs on supply constraints, upstream markets

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US acetone prices hit record highs on supply constraints, upstream markets

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Acetone supply extremely tight

Cumene availability limited on outages

New York — US acetone prices have surged to record high levels in the week to March 4, amid supply constraints, healthy demand and tightness in the upstream markets.

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Acetone pricing in trucks was heard trading as high as 110 cents/lb ($2,425/mt ) on an FOB basis and was assessed at that level, the highest since Platts began assessing acetone in 1982. Sources noted that prices have spiked over the last week, with one source saying, "It changes by the hour."

Participants noted that at least two US producers had declared force majeure, though only one was confirmed. Olin declared force majeure in the second half of February due to subfreezing temperatures which enveloped the US Gulf Coast, knocking numerous refiners and chemical plants offline.

Acetone supply had been snug throughout much of 2020 amid weaker co-product phenol demand as well as reduced import volumes into the US tied to anti-dumping measures taken against Belgium, Korea and South Africa. Additionally, US acetone/phenol producers ran at reduced rates throughout Q2 and much of Q3, sources said. "I don't think there are any spot barges available," a sources said. Acetone demand has remained firm from the downstream MMA segment as acrylate demand improved due to the pandemic.

Further price support from acetone came via tightness in the upstream markets, particularly in cumene. Cumene availability has been extremely limited thus far in 2021 as sources noted unplanned production issues that exacerbated a market that was already tight due to planned work by Flint Hills. The company underwent planned maintenance in January at its 700,000 mt/year facility at Corpus Christi beginning in January and was expected to restart sometime in March. Additionally, sources said that Shell had faced some cumene issues, though details and confirmation were unavailable at the time of publication.

Bolstering acetone and phenol pricing was sharp gains in propylene pricing, where prices hit their highest level in a decade amid production outages along the US Gulf Coast. "The huge increase in PGP have pushed spot acetone prices above $1.00," a distributor source said.

The culmination of these factors has led to numerous price increases, including an 8-10 cent increase implemented for H2 February as well as 20-25 cent price increases announced recently for March. These dynamics have also impacted the phenol market, where adders to benzene have increase in Q1 and sources have said that sellers may look to increase those adders an additional 5 cents in Q2.

Looking forward, little change in fundamentals was expected until well into Q2, multiple sources said.

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