Tightness persists in polyolefin markets in West Europe

Polyolefin markets in West Europe continue to remain tight due to the lasting effects of lack of spending on maintenance, as per ICIS. By late 2008, petrochem makers saw an extreme shortness of cash, leading to a delay in maintenance work such as furnace re-tubing, etc. Production glitches generally surface about 6 to 9 months after such technical issues, leading to the high number of outages seen in recent times. Confusion continues among some industry observers who are familiar with observing average operating rates and concluding that low average rates indicate poor overall profitability. Average H1 operating rates for ethylene in Europe were just 82%, but some crackers were running at more than 90% while others were operating at much-lower rates or were shut down. This was the result of both technical problems and lack of naphtha from local refiners. The ICIS pricing European cracker and PE margin reports have consistently shown that variable cost margins in Europe remain much better than many people had dared to expect this time last year. The overall "New Normal" for markets is leading to the view that we might just be bumping along the bottom of the cycle right now. In all probability this is the bottom, or close to the bottom of the cycle as most of the new capacity in this current wave is already on-stream.
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