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Upcoming holidays, COVID spike pressure PS in Asia

by Abdul Hadhi - ahadhi@chemorbis.com
  • 19/01/2021 (03:55)
Import PS prices in Asia have been slipping from late November of last year. It was initially due to the year-end market lull amid holidays but the pressure has continued into 2021 as the number of COVID-19 cases spike and activity starts to thin heading towards the Chinese New Year.

The weekly average of GPPS injection prices in China edged lower last week to $1270/ton from $1280/ton while HIPS injection prices edged down to $1550/ton on average from $1555/ton - both on CIF basis. Over in Southeast Asia, GPPS injection prices moved down last week to $1315/ton from $1330/ton while HIPS injection was down at $1620/ton from $1630/ton CIF over the same period, based on ChemOrbis Price Index data.

From late November to the week ending January 15, GPPS injection prices fell 16% in both China and Southeast Asia while HIPS injection prices retreated 8% in China and 5% in Southeast Asia.

Demand impacted by COVID spike, Chinese New Year

Market players blame the continued downtrend on the recent spike in COVID-19 cases as well as reduced business activity heading towards the Chinese New Year.

A source at a Taiwanese producer explained, “The surge in COVID cases is likely to affect replenishment and Chinese players will also slowly start preparing for the Chinese New Year holidays and demand will begin to fade.”

The Chinese New Year holiday officially starts on February 11 and lasts for a week but employees start leaving for their hometowns earlier due to the long distances involved. Employees may also take longer to get back to work. Typically, business activity is very much muted during this period.

The holidays are also celebrated in much of Southeast Asia, which has a significant Chinese population as well as strong trade links with China.

Ahead of the holidays, a spike in COVID-19 cases and renewed lockdowns have raised fears that it might slow the economic recovery.

China, where lockdown measures were lifted in April 2020, has largely brought the pandemic under control. However, hundreds of infections have been reported so far in January in Hebei province, south of Beijing. Lockdown measures have been reinstated and the provincial capital Shijiazhuang and nearby Nangong are expected to remain under lockdown until January 19.

Southeast Asia has experienced a similar spike in cases, with Malaysia and Indonesia re-imposing restrictions. A Malaysia-based trader said that a Southeast Asian producer hasn’t made offers and added: “The market is very quiet as people don’t want to buy and especially now as Malaysia is under lockdown. Many buyers have stepped back and are in wait-and-see mode.”

A converter also said that downstream demand has lessened due to a shortage of vessels to export end-products which has led several of them to reduce production.

Increased supply has added to pricing pressure. HDC Hyundai’s 160,000 tons/year unit in South Korea and Shanghai SECCO’s 300,000 tons/year in China were due to have restarted in December after turnarounds.

Cost support from styrene

Downside for PS markets in Asia may be partly mitigated by feedstock cost support from styrene, market players added.

Styrene prices rose 3% last week to $910/ton FOB Korea and $930/ton CFR China. Prices of the feedstock have risen for a second week due to reduced availability as a Chinese producer unexpectedly shut its 320,000 tons/year unit.

The market may also get some support from the upcoming scheduled maintenance shutdowns. According to ChemOrbis Production News, Vietnam Polystyrene’s 50,000 tons/year unit is scheduled to shut down in late January, potentially limiting the regional supply.

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