The US propylene market continues to remain under downward pressure as the inventory level hit another yearly high last week according to a report from the Energy Information Administration. In addition, some trade participants added that some propylene and ethylene producers may look to sell off excess material in December ahead of the ad valorem tax deadline at the end of the year.
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Prompt benzene prices were expected to remain soft this week as both December and January spot pricing fell below the $2/gal mark. Derivative demand remained soft as the status of CosMar's styrene facility at Carville, Louisiana, remained unclear and amid reports of a second US Gulf producer also facing production issues. Participants anticipated that near-term benzene pricing was unlikely to see significant improvements headed into the holidays. However, lower benzene prices on both a spot and contract basis have dented toluene conversion margins, which were last estimated at near $46/mt, according to S&P Global Platts data. Lower margins were expected to translate into lower run rates and subsequently less benzene output from disproportionation units. This, coupled with lower benzene imports in December, could provide a floor for benzene pricing in January, a source said. Shipbrokers said that benzene imports in November fell by near 45,000 mt compared to the previous month and the expectation was that December volumes would remain subdued.
Some polypropylene trade participants have continued to say that as feedstock propylene price comes down and the inventory continues to build, PP producers may start offering material for export. Other market sources have said US exports may not happen again until 2019, though. In addition, most trade participants have said the market will likely reject US PP price increases of 3 cents/lb in December, citing a recent decline in spot prices. On the polyethylene side, market players are entering the week with ideas of stable-to-lower pricing while awaiting further indications on recent dynamics via the release of preliminary ACC production and sales data for November.
Polyethylene and polypropylene buyers in South America's Mercosur markets enter December's second week expecting further price reductions on import and domestic resins, with depressed global markets a primary source of current bearish sentiment. Buyers from Brazil to Argentina are keen on waiting until January for restocking decisions, as they enter what is typically the quiet part of December, when seasonal shutdowns lead to a lack of petrochemical trading activity.
US polyvinyl chloride prices were expected to linger in a range of $755-$765/mt FAS Houston, where producers settled December pricing last week. The settled range was the second consecutive rollover to October pricing as market participants resisted efforts by producers to raise prices by $20-$40/mt. Market sources said global demand remained soft, particularly in key global markets such as Africa and the Middle East. Further upstream, ethylene dichloride pricing was expected to remain in a range of $325-$335/mt FOB USG, where pricing has been since mid August, after a producer's offer of $360/mt FOB USG gained no traction. US export caustic soda pricing also was expected to remain under pressure as Norsk Hydro's Alunorte alumina plant in Brazil remained at half rates with no timeline on when regulators and courts will allow the company to resume normal output.
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