South China's residential LPG prices fell significantly in the first half of May as a result of refineries maximising LPG output and more plants returning from maintenance to capitalise on better margins compared with other oil products.
Wholesale residential LPG prices fell by around 19pc to 2,552 yuan/t ($359/t) over 6-18 May. Refineries raised LPG output during this time as margins have outperformed those of other oil products since mid-April, while a number of plants returned from maintenance. The increase in supply and a drop in residential consumption as warmer weather moves in has forced importers to clear supplies at lower prices.
Argus' recently launched south China wholesale price for propane-butane mix, the Argus Pearl River Delta Index, was assessed at Yn2,552/t on 18 May, down by Yn589/t from 6 May. The index represents the weighted-average price of six key import terminals in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong province — Jovo Energy's in Dongguan, Chinagas' in Nansha, Sinobenny's in Dapeng, and New Ocean's, Siamgas' and CNOOC's facilities in Gaolan.
Guangdong is the major hub of China's residential LPG demand, accounting for around a quarter of the total 22.8mn t in 2019, up from 21.7mn t in 2018, data from state-controlled Sinopec show. The bulk of such use in Guangdong is met through imports of propane-butane mix at seven major terminals, with receipts at these facilities reaching around 6mn t in 2019 — some of which heads to petrochemical producers or other provinces.
Local refineries supply 1.2mn-1.3mn t/yr of LPG to Guangdong's residential sector, a south Chinese refiner says. Overall supplies for residential use in south China have increased by 4,000-4,100 t/d (1.46mn-1.49mn t/yr)since late April, mostly from major refineries in Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces.
Sinopec's 470,000 b/d Maoming refinery in Guangdong has been supplying 2,400-2,500 t/d of LPG since mid-April, almost triple its previous output of propane and butane. And the firm's joint-venture Maoming petrochemical plant with Germany's BASF has been shut down since mid-April owing to weak demand, freeing up around 1,000 t/d of LPG.
Regional refinery supplies of LPG have been bolstered by petrochemical producers switching feedstock to cheaper naphtha, forcing refiners to offer to residential buyers at lower prices. Sinopec set its May settlement price for naphtha at Yn1,370/t, down by Yn1,700/t from April. And state-controlled PetroChina set its equivalent at Yn1,000/t, down by Yn1,315/t from April.
LPG supplies from refineries in nearby Guangxi province have also increased as capacity has been ramped up.PetroChina's 200,000 b/d Qinzhou refinery restarted at the end of April after a two-month maintenance shutdown. The refinery has supplied around 1,000 t/d of residential LPG since.
Sinopec's 100,000 b/d Beihai refinery is expected to start up this week following a two-month maintenance shutdown, which will add another 200-300 t/d of LPG to the market. And the company's 240,000 b/d Fujian plant in the southeastern Fujian province, a joint venture with ExxonMobil and state-owned Saudi Aramco, switched to run fully on naphtha at the end of April, releasing 200-300 t/d of imported LPG onto the residential market.
Chinese petrochemical firm Fujian Meide is selling 44,000t of propane it bought at the end of April, due to arrive in late May, for its planned 660,000 t/yr propane dehydrogenation plant in Fuqing, Fujian province. Technical problems could delay the facility's start-up, originally due in the second quarter. Fujian Meide has sold 800-900 t/d of propane to the residential market since late April.