Asian PE margins under pressure as oil prices rise

Dalian Apr10.pngChina’s demand has been the main driver for the global chemical industry over the past year. And prices on China’s Dalian polymers futures exchange have been a key indicator of the boom. But now, the rally seems to be running out of steam. The key signs are in the above chart:
• At the end of January, the linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) contract (red dotted line) was trading at 11210 yuan/tonne, whilst WTI crude oil (blue line) was $73/bbl.
• But by the end of March, the LLDPE contract had fallen to 11010 yuan /tonne, whilst WTI had risen to $84/bbl.
There are probably three main causes for this decoupling:
• New ME/Chinese polymer capacity is starting to arrive
• Today’s high oil prices are starting to cause some demand destruction.
• New government credit controls are reducing speculative demand.
Certainly, the Dalian futures trend matches the recent downturn in Asian HDPE margins. As the ICIS Polymer Margin report shows, integrated North East Asian (NEA) margins peaked at $464/t in February. Last week, they were back at £413/t. And standalone HDPE margins are now in negative territory.

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