The global acetyls markets have started 2017 with some upward momentum in pricing, and sales have been relatively steady taking into account January is in the midst of the low season for several major downstream markets. All things considered, this bodes well for the acetyls sector which has endured more “downs” than “ups” in the past two years. There is a renewed belief among market participants that acetyls markets are due for a positive year, albeit at lower growth rates than in years past.
Overall world acetic acid consumption is expected to grow by 2.7% in 2017, or about the same rate as 2016, according to Tecnon OrbiChem forecasts. Acetic acid consumption growth also has slowed in the past 2-3 years, reflecting the downturn in construction and related businesses in China, and prolonged economic turmoil in South America and India.
Vinyl acetate monomer, the largest downstream consumer of acetic acid, will see growth at around 2.0% in 2017, or a little below the 2.7% growth in 2016. Again, VAM demand has been hampered by the general slowdown in China and other emerging economies.
After a series of production outages and forces majeure led to huge price increases for acetic acid and VAM in the first half of 2014, global prices in both markets suffered a prolonged downward spiral which persisted well into 2016. In China, prices for acetic acid and some of its derivatives dropped back to levels last seen in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008-09. The situation turned around in the fourth quarter as methanol feedstock prices increased on the back of strong demand from methanol-to-olefins producers in China and much higher coal prices.
In the VAM market, there was relative stability in prices during 2015 and the first half of 2016, but prices collapsed in the third quarter and remained depressed through the end of the year. Market prices were showing signs of a rebound in early 2017, which was encouraging news for producers as prices had fallen to unsustainable levels late in 2016.
Acetyls producers in Saudi Arabia and the United States maintained decent margins during the past two years as natural gas was the advantaged feedstock compared to coal, but once energy started to increase in mid-2016 even those producers began feeling the pinch. The key push on the cost-side should continue to be from methanol, fueled by rapidly growing demand for methanol-to-olefin and other “non-traditional” applications.
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