Demand for benzene from the Styrene Monomer (SM) sector (that consumes 50% of Asia’s benzene) has been robust in Asia, but is likely to fizzle out in February with slackening of demand as China proceeds for its Lunar New Year break and downstream demand wanes on a spate of shutdowns at SM units in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, as per ICIS. China is known to cut back imports ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays every year as factories lower operations or close, and migrant workers head back to their hometown.
The Asian region is also witnessing healthy benzene supply as majority of crackers, toluene disproportionation (TDP) and hydro-dealkylation (HDA) units are running at full steam on the back of strong margins. But with the expectation of dwindling demand, several key benzene sellers in Asia were trying to ship volumes to the US where the prompt month’s supply is reported to be tight to the tune of an estimated 20,000-30,000 tons in January, and 40,000-50,000 tons in February. High inventory level in East China at about 100,000 tons is exerting further pressure on import demand. A similar slowdown in demand is expected in the Asian toluene market as China.
However, medium term expectations for both benzene and toluene from March-May were more upbeat. Prices of both products were likely to rise from March when demand for aromatics imports in the US is expected to improve, as gasoline demand spikes around that time and US refiners prepare for the summer driving season from May. The onset of summer in some Asian countries was also expected to improve gasoline demand, which in turn would improve toluene demand.
SM plants turnaround schedule
|Name||Country||Capacity (t/yr)||Start from|
|TSMC (No. 1)||Taiwan||180||Mid Jan|
|GPPC (No. 1)||Taiwan||130||Early Jan|
|Nippon Steel||Japan||190||First-half March|
|Idemitsu (No. 2)||Japan||120||Mid March|
|Idemitsu (No. 3)||Japan||220||Mid March|
|LG (No. 1)||South Korea||200||First-half March|
|LG (No. 2)||South Korea||300||First-half March|
|Samsung Total (No. 1)||South Korea||280||Mid March|