European diesel tightens, crude weakens as French refinery outages linger

European diesel tightens, crude weakens as French refinery outages linger

European diesel markets are flashing warnings of tightening supply while crude oil markets are weakening after nearly two weeks of disruptions at French refineries due to strike action, traders said, as per Hydrocarbonprocessing.

The industrial action, part of a nationwide movement against planned pension system changes, has led to reduced output at the Normandy and Feyzin refineries while shipments from the Donges and La Mede refineries have also been blocked.

The outages have in recent days led to growing concern that French and regional supplies of fuels, in particular diesel, could tighten in the coming weeks. In a sign of these concerns, the spread between the prompt and second month ICE low-sulfur diesel contracts rose on Monday to a premium, known as a backwardation, of USD35.25 a barrel, its highest since November 2022.

The profit margin for refining crude oil into diesel has jumped by nearly 40% over the past month. That followed weeks of rising inventories in northwest Europe as traders rushed to fill storage tanks in the run-up to a Feb. 5 EU ban on Russian fuel imports.

"The diesel market flipped from feeling long and heavy to short and very backward," one trader said. France's diesel and gasoil imports have dropped to 173,000 barrels per day (bpd) so far this month, down 50% from February and from March 2022, preliminary data from analytics group Kpler show.

In the absence of Russian diesel supplies, Europe has sharply increased imports from Asia, the Middle East and the United States in recent months. Diesel supply in the region is expected to tighten significantly by April, three trading sources said.

We remind, China still added more crude oil to inventories in the first two months of the year, despite lower imports and higher refinery processing rates. About 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude was added to commercial or strategic inventories over January and February, according to calculations based on official data. This was down from the 1.19 million bpd in December and the 740,000 bpd for 2022 as a whole.

Hengli Petrochemical achieves on spec PTA production in China

Hengli Petrochemical achieves on spec PTA production in China

Hengli Petrochemical has achieved on-spec purified terephthalic acid (PTA) production at its new facility located at Huizhou on 18 March, said the company.

The company has a new 5m tonne/year PTA facility located at the site, split into two 2.5m tonne/year PTA units. On-spec PTA production was achieved at one of the two units.

The start up of the new PTA unit will likely relief the current supply tightness in the domestic Chinese markets, which had supported the recent uptrend in prices.

The start up of the new PTA unit will result in additional demand for feedstock paraxylene (PX), and this will keep the PX market supported, with supply already being tight.

We remind, Hengli Petrochemical restarted No1 PTA unit in Dalian, China on 17 March after scheduled maintenance works.

Sempra launches Port Arthur LNG project

Sempra launches Port Arthur LNG project

Sempra announced that its 70%-owned subsidiary, Sempra Infrastructure Partners, LP (Sempra Infrastructure), reached a positive final investment decision (FID) for the development, construction and operation of the Port Arthur LNG Phase 1 project in Jefferson County, Texas, said Hydrocarbonprocessing.

Sempra Infrastructure closed its joint venture with an affiliate of ConocoPhillips, as well as announced an agreement to sell an indirect, non-controlling interest in the project to an infrastructure fund managed by KKR. Additionally, Sempra Infrastructure announced the closing of the project's $6.8 B non-recourse debt financing and the issuance of the final notice to proceed under the project's engineering, procurement and construction agreement.

"At Sempra, we believe bold, forward-looking partnerships will be central to solving the world's energy security and decarbonization challenges," said Jeffrey W. Martin, chairman and chief executive officer of Sempra. "With strong customers, top-tier equity sponsors in ConocoPhillips and KKR and a world class contractor in Bechtel, this project has the potential to become one of America's most significant energy infrastructure investments over time, while creating jobs and spurring continued economic growth across Texas and the Gulf Coast region."

"Sempra's selection of Port Arthur as the location for a new natural gas liquefication and export terminal is a strategic decision that will cement Texas' position as the energy capital of the world," said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. "With a highly skilled workforce and business-friendly climate, and as a national leader in LNG exports, Texas is the prime location to expand LNG operations to unleash the United States' full economic potential in such a critical industry. Expanding LNG is imperative to American energy security, and the State of Texas looks forward to working alongside Sempra to advance this mission and bring more jobs and greater opportunities to hardworking Texans."

The Port Arthur LNG Phase 1 project is fully permitted and is designed to include two natural gas liquefaction trains, two liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tanks and associated facilities with a nameplate capacity of approximately 13 MMtpy. Total capital expenditures for the Port Arthur Phase 1 project are estimated at USD13 B.

The long-term contractable capacity of approximately 10.5 Mtpa is fully subscribed under binding long-term agreements with strong counterparties —ConocoPhillips, RWE Supply and Trading, PKN ORLEN S.A., INEOS and ENGIE S.A., all of which became effective upon reaching FID. Sempra Infrastructure is also actively marketing and developing the competitively positioned Port Arthur LNG Phase 2 project, which is expected to have similar offtake capacity to Phase 1.

We remind, Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPChem) and Charter Next Generation (CNG)––bringing the fund’s total capital to USD45 M in an effort to support the development of plastics recycling and recovery infrastructure in North America.

Azoty suffers Q4 loss

Azoty suffers Q4 loss

Grupa Azoty suffered a fourth-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) loss of zloty (Zl) 296m (USD67.4m) as Ukraine war market impacts caused “record-breaking and highly volatile” energy and raw material costs, said the company.

Estimated Q4 consolidated sales revenue was Zl 5.1bn while the estimated EBITDA margin in the quarter was minus 5.8%, it added. Estimates for the full-year 2022 results showed EBITDA of Zl 2.5bn, consolidated sales revenue of Zl 24.7bn and an EBITDA margin of 10.3%.

Grupa Azoty Group - which said it would release its consolidated Q4 and full-year results on March 30 - said its fourth-quarter consolidated EBIT and EBITDA were hit by significant impairment losses of around Zl 404m on non-financial non-current assets and inventories of finished products, semi-finished products and raw materials.

The impact of impairment losses on non-financial non-current assets also resulted in a decrease in the group's full-year consolidated EBIT by Zl 963m.

In remarks on the estimated results, state-controlled Azoty, Europe’s second largest fertiliser producer, said: “Record-breaking and highly volatile prices of raw materials, mainly natural gas, throughout 2022, as a result of Russia's aggression against Ukraine and unprecedented cost pressure, forced production cuts in three key Grupa Azoty companies, mainly in the Agro and Plastics segments. “The subsequent fall in gas prices allowed production to be restored in October."

The company added that “it should be emphasised that since the fourth quarter of 2022 in Europe we have been observing an imbalance in demand and supply in all segments, which is reflected in adapting the production volume of the Capital Group companies to the current market situation”.

“The overriding goal of Grupa Azoty remains to ensure access to fertilisers on our most important market in Poland,” it said. Azoty also observed that “analyses show that a large part of farmers have not yet decided to purchase specific fertilisers before the approaching application season.

We remind, Grupa Azoty launched a 40,000 tonne/year concentrated nitric acid unit, doubling its production capacity for the product. Azoty, the sole manufacturer of concentrated nitric acid in Poland, said the zloty (Zl) 57.1m (USD13.1m) plant, built over the course of two years, would be of great importance in securing the production of more high-value chemicals.

INEOS, unions reach tentative deal over strike

INEOS, unions reach tentative deal over strike

INEOS reached a three-year labour agreement with two unions at one of its pigment plants in Ohio, the company said.

It reached the three-year tentative collective bargaining agreement on Friday with Teamsters Local Union 377 and Local 1033C of the International Chemical Workers Union Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

The company said that ratification of its tentative agreement is pending approval by the workers and that it was looking forward to Plant 2 at Ashtabula, Ohio, returning to operation. INEOS did not comment on when production at Plant 2 would resume or the status of the ratification process.

INEOS Pigments had previously confirmed that hourly workers at Plant 2 have been on strike since 12 March. The company has two production facilities in Ashtabula. The second plant - where workers went on strike - produces titanium dioxide (TiO2) and chlorine.

Last week, INEOS said that this plant had been taken offline, ahead of a scheduled maintenance.

We remind, INEOS has secured EUR3.5bn in financing for its Antwerp, Belgium, cracker project, set to have the lowest CO2 output of any unit in the continent. The plant, expected onstream in 2026, has the capacity to operate entirely on low-carbon hydrogen, with scope for the addition of a carbon capture facility and electric furnaces in future, according to INEOS. The estimated budget for the project, which INEOS made a final investment decision (FID) on last year, currently stands at EUR4.0bn.