Asian ethylene prices may fall as high naphtha prompts LPG cracking
Tokyo (Platts)--4Mar2011/138 am EST/638 GMT
Asian ethylene prices may see a downturn in the near future despite
crude-led bullish naphtha feedstock prices, as high naphtha costs drive
producers to crack LPG, which gives a higher ethylene yield, market sources
On Thursday, Asian naphtha price breached $1,000/mt for the first time in
30 months, settling at $1,000.38/mt. On the other hand, the CFR Northeast Asia
ethylene price benchmark remained steady and settled at $1,350/mt Thursday,
Platts data showed.
Following the sharp spike in the Asian naphtha market, ethylene margins
in Northeast Asia dropped to minus $0.38/mt Thursday, compared with $14/mt
Despite high naphtha prices and tight ethylene supplies, spot ethylene
buyers remained "conservative" and continued to take a wait-and-see stance
A market source pointed out that buyers expected ethylene supplies to
increase in the near future due to LPG cracking.
In order to counter rising naphtha costs, Asian steam cracker operators
have started considering using LPG as alternative feedstock.
For example, Taiwan's Formosa Petrochemical will switch 10% of its
cracking feedstock to LPG from the end of this month. Formosa has three
naphtha-fed steam crackers at Mailiao with a combined ethylene production
capacity of 2.93 million mt/year.
According to market sources, the ethylene production yield from cracking
LPG is around 0.36-0.40, higher than 0.23 from cracking naphtha.
The sources also said that steam cracker run cuts is not an option for
Asian producers due to fat margins for other olefins, such as propylene.
On Thursday, the FOB Korea propylene price increased $20/mt and was
assessed at $1,501/mt. Considering a typical conversion cost of $150/mt from
naphtha, propylene margins were calculated at plus $350/mt as of Thursday.
In addition, the producers prefer to keep running at full capacity as
they are seeking arbitrage opportunities to sell spot cargoes to Europe.
According to a shipping report, a 10,000 mt spot ethylene cargo was reported
to have been sold on an FOB Taiwan basis for March 15-20 loading with options
to move to Europe. European ethylene price was assessed at $1,525/mt CIF
Northwest Europe Thursday, $175/mt higher than NEA price.
--Fumiko Dobashi, firstname.lastname@example.org
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