Global maleic anhydride markets were booming in the last quarter of 2020 and the early part of the New Year. China was a little ahead of the curve after coming out of the COVID-19 crisis earlier and perhaps slowing down a little earlier, or at least softening, as the Lunar New Year approached. As production and demand were revitalised by consumer spending in many downstream areas — stimulated by the promise of a vaccine — concerns including logistics issues, a rise in cases of COVID-19, and new strains in certain geographies threatened to slow markets down again.
The US maleic anhydride market has seen a huge boost in demand, mainly from the UPR side but also from the acidulants sector as COVID-19 restrictions started to ease in the fourth quarter despite a resurgence of the virus late in the year. The beginning of vaccination programs against the virus seemed to boost consumer confidence, while expectations of strong GDP growth supported UPR expectations as well.
US maleic pricing increased over the last quarter of 2020 and in January 2021, although this trend slowed in February with most suppliers saying they would roll over prices for this month. Prices could increase in March, but this will largely depend on how n-butane prices develop as well as on how demand looks in reality in a month or so. It has been surprising how strong demand has been with offtake in December extraordinarily good and followed by a robust January. Most buyers and sellers of maleic believe this trend will continue, but there are some fears that the strong growth based on pent-up demand may slow and there could be a correction downward in terms of UPR sales heading into the spring. On the other hand, the second quarter is typically the good demand season; therefore, this could push the market upward.
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