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US MEK market moving into more balanced position in 2017
Feb 20, 2018

The US methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) market in the US are moving into a more balanced position in early 2018, following a tight second half of 2017.

methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) is not produced in the US, with the region relying on imports largely from Europe, South Africa and Asia. But production issues, natural disasters and high consumption in other regions limited methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) supplies into the US in the second half of the year.

In July, a fire and power outage at large refinery in Rotterdam tightened the European methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) market, increasing prices and limiting shipments to the US. Although the force majeure was resolved in about a month, the market remained tight into the fourth quarter when the region faced further production issues.

Meanwhile, US imports from South Africa also were limited as regional producer Sasol warned customers in August that it may limit sales. In September, the producer said it would limit customers to contract or target volumes, and those restrictions continued into December.

Material from Asia offered little relief, amid tightness during the second half  of 2017 due to turnarounds, holiday-related outages and strong demand.

The US market also was impacted by Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in the US Gulf in late August. Historic flooding from the storm impacted shipping systems in and around Houston, Texas, which is a hub for chemical shipments around the US.

US  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) prices rose in response to the global tightness and global price increases. However, the disruptions from Hurricane Harvey caused further tightness and price increases for  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) delivered across or delivered material began to soften in December.

Heading into 2018, US  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) prices could continue to soften if supplies continue to loosen.

South African producer Sasol had been expected to lift sales restrictions by the end of 2017. While the  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) markets in Europe and Asia remain tight, the start of winter in North America may help balance the US market.

methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) is frequently used as a solvent in paints and coatings and can be used in rubber-based industrial cements, which are tied to the construction industry and have a seasonal slow-down during the colder winter months.

Slow demand may help keep the  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) market balanced early in 2018. However, increasing demand in the spring may again lead to tightness, depending on production levels in other regions and on imports into the US.

Major  methyl ethyl ketone(MEK) producers include ExxonMobil, Shell and Sasol, though their plants are outside the US.

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