Weakness in crude futures amid robust benzene supply in Asia will continue to exert pressure on regional prices of the aromatics product in the near-term. As per ICIS, a near 5% fall in crude prices to US$73/bbl overnight, shook the market in Asia on Friday, sending benzene prices crashing down by US$30-40/ton to US$915-930/ton FOB Korea at midday. Offers for March loading fell by over twenty dollars to US$940/ton FOB Korea, while bids declined a bigger US$50-55/ton to US$900/ton FOB Korea from Thursday’s levels. Benzene is the largest-volume aromatic used to produce a number of petrochemical intermediates such as styrene monomer, cumene for phenol and acetone, cyclohexane and nitrobenzene.
The direction of the benzene market will be gauged by crude oil movement. The fall in crude prices has thwarted the recovery of Asian benzene values this week amid high operating rates at crackers and reformers in the region on the back of healthy production margins have kept benzene in oversupply. Asian traders have been actively trying to export February and March benzene cargoes to key importer – USA, to get rid of surplus supply. About 50,000-60,000 tons of shipments have been fixed for loading in February from Asia. Traders are finding it difficult to fix cargoes due to rapid fluctuation in crude values and in inter-regional prices of benzene for March. Also, scheduled turnarounds at several styrene monomer (SM) plants in northeast Asia are likely ease demand for benzene and could further weaken prices.