The Urethane Blog

Benzene Prices Fall

US Benzene Slumps 22% Amid Pandemic; Styrene and Polystyrene Losses Muted

March 18, 2020

U.S. benzene prices have slumped 22% since coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic on March 11, reaching $1.70/gal on Tuesday for prompt delivery, a 50ct slide. Prices have been tracking trends in Europe, which traded down to $460/mt ($1.53/gal equivalent). While benzene supply could be limited if refineries begin cutting operating rates, March benzene shorts are finding an ease to covering, even late in the month. U.S. benzene is expected to be well supplied into April with European Union and Asia import arrivals scheduled amid a weak downstream styrene market.

However, a worsening situation led to continued selling pressure in Europe on Wednesday with benzene prices bottoming out at $335/mt, equivalent to $1.10/gal. That keeps an open arbitrage for benzene from Europe to move to the U.S. Gulf Coast with a landed price near $1.30/gal. The buyers in the Gulf have been hesitant to emerge on Wednesday morning and offers were down to as low as $1.48/gal for May arrivals by lunchtime. The styrene spot price is at a bid level of $455/mt prompt March, $475/mt April and $495/mt May at the moment.

That is down from $500-$550/mt for March and $500-$560/mt for April and May an hour earlier this morning.

Styrene losses have been milder than most markets, as it was a weak market before the pandemic. March spot styrene began the month at 32-33cts/lb., and rested at 29-30cts/lb. this week. Multiple styrene production lines are expected to be down until early April, as well and a cumene line. Cumene is another use for benzene.

An upside for benzene could be if refiners begin to cut CDU and FCC operations that will eventually lead to lower reformer rates. There are also still a few reformer outages for maintenance in March that companies are trying to wrap up by April. The current benzene price is over a 2.6 ratio to crude, which is generally considered to be an indicator of a tight market.

Downstream polystyrene prices have eased, but not to a dramatic degree. This has been the case with U.S. plastic markets in general, as the effects of the upstream routs have not reached the manufacturing level so far. General purpose polystyrene prices have slipped from 68cts/lb. in early March to 66cts/lb. this week, while high impact polystyrene prices have moved from 73cts/lb. to 71cts/lb. Polystyrene has a range of consumer applications, primarily in disposable goods such as food packaging trays and take-out containers. It is also used in the manufacture of appliances, consumer electronics and construction materials.

 

–Reporting by Kevin Wallman, kevin.wallman@ihsmarkit.com, David Barry, david@petrochemwire.com;

–Editing by Kathy Hall, kathy@petrochemwire.com, Joe Link, joe@petrochemwire.com

 

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