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US styrene outages drawing shipments from Asia

08 February 2017 Clay Boswell

IHS understands that multiple traders are considering shipments of styrene from Asia and the Middle East to the US Gulf Coast (USGC), and at least one ship has already been fixed. The move is extremely unusual, but prices on the US Gulf have soared since news of production issues at Cosmar and Americas Styrenics reached the market on 31 January.

"The current tight USGC styrene market is driving many players to look for innovative ways to supply the market," says David Byrne, senior director/C3 derivatives and styrene at IHS Chemical. "Movements from both Europe and Asia have been considered, but Asia has higher inventories at this time. It will be interesting if multiple traders book product into the USGC as, if all arrives at the same time, one could anticipate a price slump."

The arbitrage window is wide open. When news of the outages reached the market on 31 January, the price of styrene in the USGC jumped to $1,500/metric ton, and on 3 February, a barge was traded at $1,650/metric ton. IHS also understands that a railcar quantity was traded at $2,000/metric ton. Meanwhile, the price of styrene in Asia is about $1,480/metric ton CFR China, and in Europe, $1,570/metric ton FOB Rotterdam.

Rules for the Certificate of Origin for derivatives sold in the NAFTA region present a hurdle to imports, but it is not insurmountable, says Byrne.

Except for product from Canada, styrene imports to the United States are practically unheard of. Of the 5.8 million metric tons imported over the last 10 years, only 19,300 metric tons originated outside Canada, divided almost equally between Mexico, the United States' other NAFTA partner, and the Netherlands, according to data compiled by IHS. Barely 1,000 metric tons originated in Asia, and almost all of that in South Korea and Thailand.

On 2 February, Total confirmed that Cosmar, its styrene joint venture with Sabic, will not be able to restart Carville line as soon as planned because of an equipment failure late last month. A new startup date has not been finalized. On 31 January, Americas Styrenics announced that it is extending the scheduled maintenance turnaround of the St. James unit "through mid-March" to complete repairs to critical equipment.

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