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Americas: The week ahead in petrochemicals

Houston — US OLEFINS

US November ethylene contract prices are expected to finalize this week, a trade source said. Spot ethylene prices rose 0.75 cent week on week. Lower spot polymer-grade propylene pricing is anticipated because of year-end selling by producers. However, spot PGP prices also inched 0.75 cent higher last week. Meanwhile, refinery-grade propylene prices fell to their lowest level since January 2017 at 17.25 cents/lb, according to S&P Global Platts data.


US export polyethylene remains under pressure from an excess of supply, and market participants expect prices to continue sliding this month based on those fundamentals. One of Formosa Plastics' two new PE plants at its Texas complex is operational, with a second and a new 1.5 million mt/year cracker to come online later this month. The operational 400,000 mt/year plant can swing between making high density and linear low density PE. The new 400,000 mt/year low density PE plant is undergoing commissioning in advance of coming online. US polypropylene market participants are expecting a 2.5-cent decline in the monthly propylene contract to influence spot PP pricing, perhaps starting this week. Sources have heard prices in the upper 30s cents/lb for export rail cars, although export opportunities have been mostly limited to Canada and Mexico.


Brazilian PE and PP markets are expected to remain under pressure from international supplies over the coming week, especially US PE, and Middle Eastern and Asian PP. In the past week, both PE and PP prices fell following weakness in the US and Asia. Markets globally can expect to continue to see a shift to the downside in the coming week. Brazilian prices are the lowest since Platts began assessing these markets. Braskem said it was keeping its price policy unchanged for delivered material, however it said the market has decreased around Real150/mt for PE while PP prices were stable. On the West Coast of South America, spot import PE prices are expected to continue to be driven lower by US and Asian prices, after six consecutive weeks with $10-$20/mt average falls. Traders expect international prices to continue to remain under pressure, with local markets following. Most prices are at their lowest level since Platts began assessing the WCSA PE and PP market in June 2010.


Market participants will continue to monitor the December export PVC price as the marker enters its last month of the year. Pricing has remained at the $735/mt FAS Houston level since October 30 amid talk of pricing in a $730-$740/mt range. The assessment is the lowest it has been for the whole year and has shed $50 since the start of 2019. The assessment is the lowest in over three years. Pricing is expected to continue to remain unchanged as at least one producer has talked of a rollover to October levels. Bearish demand for PVC coupled with additional supply expected at the end of the month or in early January, including from Westlake Chemical's expansion at Geismar, Louisiana, could continue to make it a buyer's market for those awaiting a price floor. Meanwhile, cheaper caustic soda prices could have a knock-on effect on chlor-alkali run rates and ultimately increase ethylene dichloride prices as supply tightens.


Activity in the benzene market was expected to slow this week following the settlement of the December contract price. Sources said the US December benzene CP had settled at 231 cents/gal, up 8 cents from the November settlement. Sources said derivative demand from styrene remained soft and this was not expected to change in the near term. Spot pricing has been hovering below $800/mt and sources have said some US producers were operating at reduced rates. Globally, supply is poised to improve following the restart of the 640,000 mt/year LBI/Covestro POSM unit at Maasvlakte. Meanwhile, toluene prices are expected to see continued support from stronger reformate prices as producers look to sell at reformate plus 15-20 cents/gal. Demand was expected to continue to reside in the gasoline blending segment amid weak consumption at toluene conversion units. STDP margins were last estimated at around minus $37/mt, and with little support seen in benzene and continued length in paraxylene, margins were not expected to improve. Much like toluene, demand for mixed xylene was expected to come via blenders as continued weakness in the PX-MX spread dents producer economics.

-- Staff,

-- Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,