2020/09/01 SINGAPORE–Isocyanates and polyol markets in the Middle East have been characterized by persistent supply tightness, which is expected to continue in the next few months.
Demand for toluene diisocyanates (TDI), polymeric methylene diphenyl diisocyanates (PMDI) and polyols has considerably outpaced supply over the past four to five weeks.
While a pick-up in demand has played a role, the biggest factor for the state of affairs has been constricted supply amid widespread turnarounds and low operating rates in both Europe and Asia.
The Middle East sources the bulk of its isocyanates and polyols imports from the two regions.
In Europe, supply shortfalls of 20% for PMDI and 30% for TDI are estimated due to turnarounds at major production plants.
Consequently, export allocations to the Middle East have slowed to a trickle in an effort by European producers to meet domestic demand.
Polyol cargoes that were scheduled for September shipments are sold-out, with some European and Asian producers running out of October cargoes as well.
This is true for both the most heavily traded 10-13.5% polyether polyols (POP) variety as well as conventional polyols, which are traded at relatively lower volumes in the Middle East.
Though polyol production units have generally not seen the sort of turnarounds that has been prevalent in the isocyanates market, most suppliers to the Middle East are currently running on significantly reduced operating rates, resulting in supply tightness.
Faced with collapsing demand when countries across the world were implementing lockdowns earlier in the year, most producers lowered operating rates to stave off large losses.
Over the past few weeks, however, as more economies have re-opened, markets began to see a spike in demand.
As pent-up consumption spending has come to the fore, sales of rugs, mattresses and other foam-based products have surged, lifting up demand for isocyanates and polyols – which are used in foam production – in the process.
Producers were largely caught unaware by the demand surge and were slow to ramp up output.
Although some plants have now begun to increase operating rates, the process is expected to take time.
Even after plant turnarounds end and other producers raise output, supply may stay tight for the Middle East since regional demand typically peaks in September as the summer heat recedes and as consumer spending increases.
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