Crude oil futures on the Nymex reached the highest level of the past three months, climbing above US$94/bbl in the intra-day sessions. The accelerating exports from China in December as well as the expectations about a slow recovery of the eurozone economy played a role in the recent bullish run of crude oil prices. China’s customs agency revealed that overseas sales from the world’s second-largest fuel consuming country jumped 14.1% last month from a year earlier. Plus, the appreciation of the euro against the US dollar contributed to crude’s gains as the sentiment has turned positive after the European Central Bank said “a gradual recovery should start later this year.” Indeed, the weekly average of crude oil prices has been steadily gaining since mid December, when they were trading at around US$85/bbl. The naphtha market has responded to the bullish energy costs in Asia, where prices gained more than US$25/ton on average on CIF Japan basis.
Players are expecting to see arbitrage volumes in large tonnages arriving to Asia in February, casting a shadow on the bullish outlook of the naphtha market, as per ChemOrbis. However, players assume that the arriving cargoes are for heavy grade while light grade will still find support to hold its strength. Plus, demand from the Chinese petrochemical sector is said to be better with cracker operators showing more interest in raising their operating rates, according to some sources. Unlike Asia, the European naphtha market has defied the gains of the crude oil market and posted some decreases over the past two weeks. Players mainly blamed attractive propane prices and poor demand in the petrochemical industry. Plus, the shutdowns at the naphtha cracker in Lavera as well as some other units in North Africa were blamed for this downturn.
However, increasingly more players are holding bullish expectations for the near term as the naphtha market is expected to be firmer on the back of cold weather conditions.