Producers of titanium-dioxide pigment are facing slimmer margins as prices in the $16.3 billion market are poised for the first two-year drop in a decade because of oversupply and weak demand.
US benzene spot prices tumbled swiftly this week after hitting a record $5.35/gal ($1,599.65/mt) DDP US Gulf on Friday, Platts data showed.
On Tuesday, October benzene was assessed at $5.18/gal ($1,548.82/mt) DDP, down 9 cents/gal ($26.91/mt) from Monday, while November benzene was assessed at $4.55/gal ($1,360.45/mt) DDP, down 25 cents/gal ($74.75/mt).
Weakness in the energy complex contributed to the bearish aromatics market.
Plunging prices have turned the U.S. into one of the most profitable places in the world to make chemicals and fertilizer, industries that use gas as both a feedstock and an energy source. And they have slashed costs for makers of energy-intensive products such as aluminum, steel and glass.
“The U.S. is now going to be the low-cost industrialized country for energy,” the energy economist Philip Verleger says. “This creates a base for stronger economic growth in the United States than the rest of the industrialized world.
September spot styrene was offered at $1,700/tonne (€1,343/tonne) FOB (free on board) Rotterdam on Thursday evening. This is the highest price recorded since mid-July 2008, when spot styrene traded at a record high of $1,860/tonne.
Global petrochemical prices fell by 11% in May, their biggest month-on-month drop since November 2008, when the worldwide economic crisis became an accepted and painful reality.
Prices in the $3-trillion-plus global petrochemicals market averaged $1279/tonne in May, plummeting by $165/tonne according to the Platts Global Petrochemical Index (PGPI), a benchmark basket of seven widely used petrochemicals.
Processing ethane into chemicals is 50% cheaper than using crude oil-derived naptha and its availability has made U.S. petrochemical companies the envy of overseas competitors. It also brings the prospect of lower prices for auto parts, Styrofoam and other products.
The U.S. shale-oil and natural-gas boom has cracked open another lucrative market—gas liquids used to make plastics.
North American TiO2 prices reached $1.30-1.44/lb €0.80-1.00/lb, up by 6-7 cents from the start of the fourth quarter 2010.
TiO2 has seen a sharp global upward price spiral over the last twelve months. European prices for the pigment increased by €100-200/tonne in the first quarter of 2011.
The increase continued a trend seen throughout 2010, when prices soared by €450-470/tonne over the course of the year. According to pricing service ICIS, free delivered NWE north west Europe TiO2 prices were trading between €2,300-2,550/tonne in early March.
Asian TiO2 prices jumped by $100-200/tonne €69-138/tonne at the beginning of the year to $2,800-3,000/tonne €1,900-2,100/tonne CFR cost and freight Asia, following the price hike announcements of $150-200/tonne €100-138/tonne by major producers in November.