Strength in the Asian naphtha market pushed the CFR Japan naphtha physical crack against front-month ICE Brent crude futures to a more than five-year high, as demand for naphtha was supported by positive olefin margins but weighed by a downtrend in LPG prices.
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The physical crack stood at $143.60/mt at the Oct. 13 Asian close, rising $1.125/mt day on day and $9.475/mt week on week. The crack was last higher on Jan. 5, 2016, at $144.90/mt, S&P Global Platts data showed.
ICE Brent crude futures fell 80 cents/b day on day to $83.99/b at the Oct. 13 Asian close. However, crude oil markers are expected to rise amid a surge in natural gas prices and bullish winter requirements supporting the demand outlook, Platts reported earlier.
Despite the widening crack spread, the price of CFR Japan naphtha physical decreased, and was down $4.875/mt on the day at $767.375/mt at the Oct. 13 Asian close.
The Asian naphtha complex was buoyed by strong demand amid healthy olefin margins. The key spread between CFR Northeast Asia ethylene and CFR Japan naphtha physical -- watched closely by steam cracker operators -- widened $4.875/mt day on day and $11.25/mt week on week to $392.625/mt at the Oct. 13 Asian close.
The typical breakeven level is $300-$350/mt for non-integrated producers, market sources said. As the spread remained above the range, operating rates of naphtha-fed steam crackers were likely to be full or close to full capacity, market sources said.
However, naphtha demand was weighed by a recent downtrend in LPG prices, which have boosted the economic viability of using LPG as an alternative cracker feedstock. CFR North Asia propane had been on a steady decline since the beginning of the week, decreasing $19/mt on the day to $854/mt at the Oct. 13 Asian close.
LPG typically becomes viable as a cracking feedstock when its cost is 90% that of naphtha or below. The physical spread between CFR North Asia propane and C+F Japan naphtha cargo narrowed $70.75/mt week on week to $86.125/mt at the Oct. 13 close, Platts data showed.