Asia exports low December benzene volumes to US on weak prices

(ICIS) -- Asia's benzene exports to the US will likely be low in December, as in the previous two months, given a lack of price incentive to ship out products that far, industry sources said on Friday.
Benzene shipments from South Korea to the US in December are estimated to remain below 20,000 tonnes, a Korean producer said. South Korea is the largest exporter of benzene from Asia to the US, which is the world's largest benzene importing nation.

US benzene prices were at $3.10-3.20/gal or $927-957/tonne (┬686-708/tonne) FOB (free on board) Barges late on Thursday, while European values were at $890-910/tonne CIF (cost, insurance and freight) ARA (Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam). On Friday morning, Asian spot prices were hovering at about $970-980/tonne FOB (free on board) Korea, according to ICIS.

South Korea traditionally ships out 40,000-50,000 tonnes of benzene to the US. But in November, the Asian country only exported about a third of the usual volume to the US, said a Singapore-based trader.

Demand from western industrialized economies has been falling as the US' economic state remains fragile, while the eurozone is steeped in its sovereign debt crisis.

A pick-up in US' benzene demand depends largely on China's appetite for styrene monomer (SM) imports from the US, the same Korean producer said. SM is the major downstream of benzene.
Asia is a net exporter of benzene to the US and Europe, while Asia imports SM from the US and Middle East.


US butadiene market split again in December

(ICIS) -- The US butadiene (BD) market split again in December, market sources said on Thursday, adding that one producer refused to fully match the reduction of its three rival suppliers. The split settlement, which put December contracts at 98 cents/lb ($2,161/tonne, ┬1,599/tonne) and $1/lb, followed proposed reductions of 10, 15 and 17 cents/lb by the four main US producers. The three producers settling at 98 cents/lb account for around 85% of the US BD capacity, which translates into a weighted average price of 98.3 cents/lb for the month.

BD contracts in November settled at $1.15/lb, down by 25 cents/lb from October. The reduction in December - the fourth in as many months - extends a downtrend that began in September, when prices began to soften on the back of weaker demand and ample supply. US BD prices have dropped by 44% during the last four months, mirroring sharp losses seen in other regions.

BD spot prices in Asia have regained some strength, but demand in the US is expected to remain soft in December, pressured by de-stocking ahead of the end of the year. However, the outlook for 2012 points to a possible rebound, a US producer said recently, citing capacity expansions in the tyre sector and a series of cracker turnarounds scheduled for the first half of the year.


European chemical stocks rose on Friday

(ICIS) -- European chemical stocks rose on Friday on talk that the eurozone leaders are close to agreeing closer economic integration to tackle the debt crisis. Investor confidence was restored after German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech to the German Parliament that a new EU treaty was needed to impose budget discipline on eurozone members.

Mrs Merkel promised ⌠concrete steps towards a fiscal union - integrating the tax-and-spend polices of individual eurozone countries, with penalties for breaking the rules.⌠We need budget discipline and an effective crisis management mechanism, she said. ⌠So we need to change the treaties or create new treaties. ⌠We are not only talking about a fiscal union, we are beginning to create it.

On Monday she is to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy to agree on joint proposals to be put to a meeting of European leaders next week.

At 11:36 GMT Friday, the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx Chemicals index was trading up by 1.70%, as shares in many of Europe's major chemical companies increased
Swiss specialty chemicals maker Clariant was trading up by 3.49%, while Germany's chemical major Bayer rose 0.90%.

German specialty chemicals maker LANXESS was up by 2.31% and France-based chemical major Syngenta up by 3.01%. German chemical major BASF was up 2.88%. On Thursday, six central banks agreed a move to provide liquidity support to the global financial system.


PetroRabigh reduced rates at its LLDPE plant

(ICIS) -- Rabigh Refining and Petrochemical (PetroRabigh) is running its linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) plant in Rabigh, Saudi Arabia, at reduced rates because of technical issues, sources close to the company said on Thursday. The nameplate capacity of the LLDPE unit is 600,000 tonnes/year.

The exact operating rates of the plant and the details of the technical problem could not be confirmed with the company. ⌠We are told that there will be reduced allocations for January shipments because of this technical problem, said an importer in east China.

At the same site, the company's 300,000 tonne/year high density polyethylene (HDPE) line and a 700,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) unit are running at close to 100%, industry sources said.


Slovnaft built LDPE plant of ┬300m investment

LONDON (ICIS) -- Slovnaft is to realise a ┬300m ($405m) investment programme that will include the construction of a 220,000 tonne/year low density polyethylene (LDPE) installation and the reconstruction of the company's 210,000 tonne/year ethylene plant, the Slovak producer said on Thursday.

⌠Due to modern technologies, the new production unit, LDPE 4, will not only be able to replace all seven of our polyethylene [PE] production lines, it will also ensure an increase in polymer production by 42,000 tonnes/year [from the present 178,000 tonnes/year], said Ivan Dezd, the director of Slovnaft Petrochemicals.
⌠The construction of the new installation is a key investment for the whole plastics market in central Europe and will ensure a long-term sustainable competitive advantage for our company, he added.

⌠The economic crisis also affects our company but we do not regard reducing manufacturing activities and employment as the rational solution, said Oszkar Vilagi, CEO of Slovnaft, which is owned by Hungary'sMOL Group.
⌠We orientate our business philosophy to social responsibility in this region, he added.
LDPE 4, due to be in operation by November 2015 after two years of construction work, would produce 30 types of PE, enabling Slovnaft to pursue new customers throughout the EU, Slovnaft added.

The reconstruction of the ethylene unit would start next year, the company added.
Proven German technology would be used for LDPE 4, Slovnaft said, adding that the investment programme would include ┬150m to modernise the company's heat plant and aim at reducing power consumption in the production of PE by 5%.
Between 500 and 1,000 people would be employed in rolling out the investment project, Slovnaft added.