US ethylene prices continued to rise during February. March Nymex cleared ethylene settling and expiring at US$0.54/lb. The contract, which began trading in July 2009, settled for February last month at US$0.4675/lb. Ethylene trades in 100,000 lb lots per contract on the NYMEX's Clearport system. In the overall cash markets, March ethylene traded up from US$0.51-.54/lb during February, according to PetroChem Wire. The cash market assessments are used to settle the cleared NYMEX contracts. Typical ethylene deals are a minimum of 3-5 mln lbs in size, or 30-50 lots per trade. So far in February, over 200 mln lbs of ethylene have traded in the spot market.
Ethylene prices are up about 4 cents in February, while in January they gained nearly 10 cents. So far in 2010, ethylene prices have been driven by supply concerns, and its price increases have outpaced those in its largest downstream market, polyethylene resins. Maximum steam cracker operating rates in the US Gulf were above 90% during February. Maximum operating rates were at 89% for steam crackers in Texas and 93% in Louisiana, a combined rate for the region of 91%. By comparison, steam cracker operating rates a year ago were around 65%, and spot ethylene was trading at US$0.27/lb. Steam crackers in Texas and Louisiana produce more than 95% of the country's ethylene. The 26 steam crackers in Texas and 10 in Louisiana produce a combined total of about 150 million pounds of ethylene each day.