FOB Korea benzene on Friday was assessed higher by $28.33/mt week on week, and up $14.33/mt day on day at $588.33/mt, as firm buying interest from Chinese buyers led traders to actively seek cargoes for loading across second-half February, March and April from South Korea. CFR China prices had risen earlier in the week, and CFR China was assessed higher by $18/mt week on week, and up $1.50/mt from Thursday at $604/mt. The uptrend in FOB Korea had earlier lagged the rise in CFR China, and the CFR China-FOB Korea spread peaked Thursday at $28.50/mt, but as FOB Korea prices caught up Friday, the spread narrowed to $15.67/mt. While the spread was insufficient to cover freight rates between South Korea and China heard at $21-$23/ mt for a 5,000 mt benzene parcel, market participants were heard optimistic that the arbitrage would re-open as discussions for March delivery picked up. Amid bullish sentiment in the market, major Chinese benzene producer China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation, or Sinopec increased its domestic ex-tank price by Yuan 100/mt, a company source said Friday. The listed price for domestic East China benzene was increased to Yuan 4,750/mt from Yuan 4,650/mt. The new listed price equates to approximately $598.96/mt on an import parity basis, based on an exchange rate of 6.7025. The upward price revision is a move that a market source noted was “long overdue,” as prices both in the domestic East China market and in CFR China had risen steadily over the month in January. Preliminary statistics on South Korea’s export volume showed that the country exported 208,932 mt in January, down 83,332 mt from December, and down 25,153 mt on the year. This reflects thinner demand for South Korean cargoes from the US and Taiwan, which are the second and third largest buyer, respectively, of South Korean benzene based on 2018 statistics. Exports to the US in January were just 18.4% of total exports, down from the 2018 average of 24.8%. Exports to Taiwan in January were just 10.0% of total exports, down from the 2018 average of 19.8%. While market sources cited a possible recovery in demand from the US market amid upcoming turnarounds at aromatics units there, others noted that demand from the US for North Asian material could be limited amid ample supply from South Asia. Rationale FOB Korea benzene was assessed higher by $14.33/mt day on day at $588.33/mt Friday. The marker rolled forward Friday to take the average of the third, fourth and fifth half-month laycans, H1 March, H2 March, and H1 April. During the Market on Close assessment process, there were no transparent bids and offers seen. The H1 and H2 March laycans were assessed at $586/mt FOB Korea, below an offer last seen at $593/mt FOB Korea, widening the March/April timespread to minus $7/mt, below an offer seen at minus $6/mt. The H1 April laycan was assessed at $593/mt FOB Korea, above a bid last seen at $592/mt FOB Korea. The CFR China marker was assessed at the pegged level of $604/mt, up $1.50/mt day on day, above a bid for March seen at $603/mt. The East China marker was assessed at Yuan 4,877/mt, up Yuan 17/mt day on day, or $614.42/mt on an import parity basis.