Players in the European acrylic acid (AA) and acrylate esters market are observing developments in upstream propylene costs to gain some price direction ahead of December, as per ICIS. Players expect lower propylene numbers in December. This was despite the €20/ton (US$26/ton) reduction on propylene this month, as acrylate producers looked to claw back margins that have been squeezed this year amid soaring upstream costs and tepid end-user demand. November numbers had actually moved up in some cases, but a rollover across all grades was more commonly seen. Players watching the propylene market – where December contract discussions are set to commence later this week – are expecting a rollover or slight decrease on softening demand, with some continued stability in the market said to be the main priority.
While AA and esters activity is slowing ahead of year-end, and end-users look to minimise inventory levels, one producer does not expect a significant drop in values in a repeat of the Q4-2011, when softening demand and aggressive spot offers from Chinese and Russian players saw domestic values decline.
“It isn’t evident that we will see a large scale destocking this year,” said one major European supplier. “It is not the same dynamics as last year, thankfully.” Nevertheless, with key end-use markets like construction winding down in the fourth quarter, other sources believe that this will be reflected in lower pricing. While some concerns about availability have been voiced following the explosion at Japanese company Nippon Shokubai’s Himeji facility in September, which resulted in the company’s AA and super absorbent polymer facilities shutting down, there is so far no major impact on European supply and demand levels stemming from this.
Additionally, BASF’s 270,000 tpa AA facility in Ludwigshafen, Germany, is said to be experiencing production problems, although there has been no confirmation from the Germany-based chemical major. Despite this, sources do not anticipate any sizable impact on the European supply and demand dynamic, as offtake is seasonably slower. “There have been no interruptions on supply, as it’s the low season,” one buyer explained. “It is fairly manageable. When the market picks up next year we could see some impact from the Nippon [Shokubai] situation towards the end of [the first quarter] and in early [the second quarter].