The Asian ethylene-naphtha spread fell to the lowest in almost seven years amid increased supplies of ethylene, as per S&P Global Platts data. The spread between CFR Northeast Asia ethylene vs benchmark CFR Japan naphtha physical dropped to US$270.75/mt, the weakest level since December 5, 2012, when the spread was at US$230.25/mt, Platts data showed.
Market sources said the spread would likely continue falling as steam crackers are expected to operate at high running rates, supported by firm propylene and butadiene markets, boosting ethylene supplies. Last Friday, the CFR Japan naphtha price benchmark was assessed at a one-month high of US$509.25/mt, while the CFR Northeast Asia ethylene price was assessed at near a 10-year low of US$780/mt, according to Platts data. Spot demand for paraffinic naphtha has resurfaced in the Northeast Asia region as a handful of cracker units came back online after the heavy maintenance season in the second quarter.
Korea Petrochemical Industry Co's Onsan steam cracker, Yeochun NCC's No.1 steam cracker, Idemitsu's Chiba steam cracker and LG Chem's Daesan-based cracker, have resumed operations this month, bringing back demand for naphtha. Late last week, Yeochun NCC was seen procuring open-spec naphtha supplies for H1 August delivery. Cash differentials for spot paraffinic naphtha cargoes priced against the Mean of Platts Japan naphtha physical on a CFR Korea basis, were plus 25 cents/mt on Friday, compared with minus US$1/mt the day before. Additionally, arbitrage opportunities in the US-Asia direction were shut, capping the remaining volume that would reach the Far Eastern shores at around 1.4 million mt in July.
Despite narrowing ethylene margins, Asian steam cracker operators continue running their units at full capacity. Margins for other steam cracker products, such as propylene and butadiene remained healthy. The CFR China propylene price was assessed at a three-month high of $910/mt last Friday, while the CFR China butadiene was assessed at $1,130/mt, only $10/mt below the three-month-high. The price spread beween propylene and naphtha is calculated at $400.75/mt as of Friday, while the butadiene-naphtha spread was $620.75/mt, Platts data showed.