European styrene plant shut downs fail to reduce oversupply

London (Platts)--24 Sep 2010 906 am EDT/1306 GMT

European styrene monomer supplies are so ample that the recent shutdowns at BASF and Polimeri have not eaten into the oversupply, market sources. BASF's 550,000 mt/year unit at Ludwigshafen and its 500,000 mt/year Antwerp unit were both down in September but they failed to tighten supplies as spot prices remained stuck within the $1,080-$1,110/mt range. Polimeri also started a shutdown at one of its three styrene lines at its 600,000 mt/year Mantova, Italy unit. Although Europe is no longer the highest priced region, the volume of regular imports in the second and third quarters means that the region is now struggling to balance supplies despite strong demand. European propylene oxide plants were running at full rates due to strong demand for anti-freeze, polyurethane and insulation, as well as from the automobile industry. This was indirectly adding more styrene supply than was needed, sources said. POSM units simultaneously produce propylene oxide and styrene monomer. "POSM units are running hard so there is enough material around. EBSM producers would have to cut rates and buy in the spot market," a consumer said this week. Ethyl-benzene producers have the option of adjusting production rates to offset European oversupply. To compensate, buying spot parcels for October loading was considered favorable for producers, from a quarterly accounting perspective. "It's the end of the quarter so management can be critical of the result but it makes sense to explain having [October] volumes. It's purely cosmetic, business-wise it is nonsense," the same consumer said. Recently the September-October market was trading at a $15/mt contango and this market structure was expected to roll forward into October-November, sources said. Buying spot material was considered lower cost when compared with production economics. The spread between benzene and styrene spot barges was assessed at $220/mt, the widest the spread has been since August 25, according to Platts data. This spread, however, was considered too low to justify considering current production economics. This spot market spread compares favorably with the monthly term contract market spread of Eur307/mt, without rebates or discounts. This was equivalent to around $410/mt or almost double the spot market spread, giving producers a cost benefit from purchasing spot. --Miguel Cambeiro, Similar stories appear in Europe & Americas Petrochemical Scan See more information at /Products/europeandamericaspetrochemicalscan/

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