Naphtha Imports Point To Slowdown [ 14 May, 2013]
China's slumping naphtha imports go a long way to explaining why industrial output growth has been muted and why it may not accelerate much in coming months.
Net imports of the refined oil product, which is the building block for plastics and synthetic fibers, plunged 38 percent in the first quarter of 2013 to 612,654 tons from the same period a year earlier.
Final figures for April aren't available yet, but given that overall net refined product imports were only 1 percent higher than in March, it's reasonable to assume that net imports of naphtha were largely steady.
The sharp decline in naphtha imports fits with the underwhelming growth in industrial output, which rose 9.3 percent year-on-year in April - up from an 8.9 percent rise in March but below the consensus forecast for 9.5 percent.
Lower naphtha imports are a sign of weakened demand from factories that make products with high plastics content such as toys, cars and electrical goods.
Another factor that explains some of the weakness in naphtha imports is the increased refining capacity in China.
China brought online about 540,000 barrels per day of new capacity in the last quarter of 2012.
High Naphtha Import Volumes To Hit Asia For The 5th Month [ 16 Apr, 2013]
Europe, the Mediterranean and the United States will ship about 1 million tonnes of naphtha to Asia next month, similar to volumes that have been running more than 60 percent higher than 2012's monthly average since January, Reuters data showed.
That volume is about double Asia's structural shortage of the 500,000 tonnes of paraffinic naphtha it needs every month if crackers are running at full-tilt and other feedstocks such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are not available.
Unlike in the previous four months, sellers are beginning to feel the pressure as May inbound cargoes would be arriving amid plentiful supplies of the cheaper alternative LPG, which can replace 5 to 15 percent of naphtha in some Asian crackers, and when cracker runs have been reduced in Taiwan and South Korea.
The average premium for cargoes lifting in May from India, the top spot naphtha supplier to Asia, have fallen to $42 a tonne, down nearly 25 percent compared to March cargoes, which sold at premiums mostly at record highs due to a shortfall in supplies caused by refinery maintenance.
"I think the market will go down further as not all traders managed to find buyers for their cargoes," said a Singapore-based trader.
A naphtha surplus in the United States has made the situation for May cargoes worse, because it is betting on Asia to absorb its excess. It is not a regular exporter to Asia and sometimes takes naphtha from Europe.
However, some of the 200,000 tonnes of U.S. naphtha, mainly of heavy grade, initially expected to arrive in Asia next month may be sent to other final destinations.
"There is too much heavy naphtha, but there are limited buyers here. There's no point for them to come here," said a second Singapore-based trader.
He said that Mexico could be a better destination as it needs heavy naphtha to be reformed into gasoline.
Heavy naphtha can also be used in the production of paraxylene, a raw material used in the textile sector and other industries.
Any cancellation of the U.S. cargoes is not likely to turn the weak market around as Europe will jump on the chance to replace any lost shipments to Asia.
"I expect Europe to ship out more paraffinic naphtha to Asia due to weak demand in the west caused by naphtha cracker maintenance and cheaper alternative feedstock being made available," said the second trader in Singapore.
Paraffinic/open-spec naphtha is cracked into petrochemical products such as ethylene and propylene used in the plastics industry. (Reporting by Seng Li Peng; Editing by Tom Hogue)