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Global petrochemical prices in January lowest since mid-2009

Staff writer |
Prices in the $3-trillion-plus global petrochemicals market slid 14% month over month in January, continuing a six-month slide triggered by falling crude oil and naphtha prices.

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Petrochemical prices, expressed as a monthly average, fell $133 per metric ton (/mt) from December to $850/mt in January, according to the just-released monthly Platts Global Petrochemical Index (PGPI).

This is the lowest level since June 2009, when global markets were recovering from the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. During the past 12 months, petrochemical prices have fallen 40%.

The PGPI is a benchmark basket of seven widely used petrochemicals and is published by Platts, a leading global energy, petrochemicals and metals information provider and a top source of benchmark price references.

"Crude prices fell nearly 25% and naphtha prices were down 16% month over month in January," said Jim Foster, Platts director of petrochemical analysis.

"With feedstock prices falling like that, there's really no other direction for petrochemicals to go than down. There have been signs of price increases since the end of January. The question being asked by the industry now, though, is if this current rally is sustainable – or just a short-term correction."

Petrochemicals are used to make plastic, rubber, nylon and other consumer products and are utilized in manufacturing, construction, pharmaceuticals, aviation, electronics and nearly every commercial industry.

Prices of olefins – a group of hydrocarbon compounds which are the building blocks to many petrochemical products used to produce everyday goods – posted double-digit declines in January. Ethylene prices tumbled 15% from December to $834/mt and propylene prices were down 10% to $786/mt.

Polyethylene and polypropylene, plastics manufactured from ethylene and propylene respectively, posted similar month-over-month drops in price. Global polyethylene fell to $1,230/mt, down 12%, while polypropylene fell 14% to $1,165/mt.

Prices of aromatics – a group of scented hydrocarbons with benzene rings used to make a variety of petrochemicals – also saw a sharp price decline in January. Benzene posted the largest drop of any component in the PGPI, with prices shedding 18% from December to $604/mt in January. Toluene prices fell more than 17% to $554/mt, while paraxylene prices slid 12% to $729/mt.

Global equity markets were mixed in January. The London Stock Exchange Index (FTSE) posted a 1% gain and the NIKEEI 225 gained 3% during the month. However, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 4%.

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