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Asian petrochemical H1 outlook: Polymers and olefins in focus

With Clement Choo, Senior Editor, Asian Petrochemicals

February 06, 2018 04:00:41 EST (3:06)

Asia's olefins and polymers markets face a mixed outlook in the first six months of 2018, says Clement Choo, Senior Editor for Asian Petrochemicals, in this video.

While annual steam cracker turnarounds are expected to lower olefins production, fresh polymer production is expected to weaken markets and change market flows. An early emphasis to use LPG for cracking could result in higher olefins production and lower aromatics production. China’s ban on plastic waste imports in 2018 could increase demand for virgin material amid the country’s efforts to clean up its environment especially for reducing air pollution.

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Download S&P Global Platts: Asian Petrochemical Outlook H1 2018

Equities and crude oil prices have surged at the start of 2018 - but will Asian petrochemical markets follow suit? And will the Year of the Dog see the tides of Chinese imports turn, and see the Asian giant start to increase its export volumes? Many challenges and opportunities face these markets in the year to come, such as the potential for anti-dumping duties and rising cost of production.

Read this special report by the Asian Petrochemical Team to learn more about the outlook in Asia for the year ahead.

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Video Transcript

Asian petrochemical H1 outlook: Polymers and olefins in focus

By Clement Choo, Senior Editor, Asian Petrochemicals

Welcome to The Snapshot, a series examining the forces shaping and driving global commodities markets today.

Asia's olefins and polymers markets face a mixed outlook in the first six months of 2018.

Amid typical factors such as turnarounds, tight supply and emerging downstream demand, a new factor has emerged in China.

Effective, January 1, 2018, China has banned the import of plastic waste for recycling, which includes polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and so on.

Data from the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection showed plastic waste imports totaled 7.3 million mt in 2016 so demand for virgin plastics in China is expected to increase this year.

Amid the ban, in Northeast Asia, half of Japan's 12 naphtha-fed steam cracker are scheduled for planned maintenance, resulting in a 3.46 million mt/year of ethylene production loss.

This could point to healthy margins for ethylene producers. Cracker operators are using LPG as a feedstock so we will see an increase in ethylene production in Northeast Asia.

Similarly, propylene supply will tighten as most crackers produce both ethylene and propylene. Fresh acrylonitrile production in China is expected to place additional demands on the propylene supply chain.

In China, the government's measure to reduce air pollution is likely to affect petrochemical operations in the country, increasing demand for imported products. For instance, tight polyvinyl chloride supply is expected as Chinese carbide-based PVC plants reduce their operation rates.

On the polymer side, incremental supply from up to 3 million mt/year of new polyethylene capacity amid poor macroeconomics is likely to weaken the Asian market and redraw trade flows in 2018.

Indian demand for PVC is expected to support the spot market as the country is expected to face a 1.5 million mt/year PVC shortfall in 2018. As such, higher ethylene-based PVC production is expected as most calcium carbide furnaces are deemed to be not environmentally friendly.

Butadiene markets face a challenge of new production capacities in China but the startup of new downstream derivatives, such as nitrile rubber, could balance or offset the fresh capacities.

Until next time on the snapshot – we’ll be keeping an eye on the markets.

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