UPDATE 2-S. Korea restarts three naphtha crackers, lifting Asian demand

* Lotte Chemical, LG Chem and YNCC to ramp up output

* Cracker restarts drive up Asia naphtha prices (Adds YNCC capacity expansion)

SEOUL/SINGAPORE, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Three naphtha crackers in South Korea, one of Asia’s largest petrochemical centres, are to resume operations in December and January after months of maintenance and outages, company officials said on Tuesday.

As the companies prepare to ramp up production, they have purchased large volumes of spot naphtha, lifting prices in the region to their highest in months, trade sources said.

“There is more demand (for naphtha). All these crackers are recovering and returning to the market,” one of the sources said.

Petrochemicals producers across Asia are increasing output on the back of strong margins, the sources said.

Lotte Chemical began test runs at its 1.1 million tonnes per year (tpy) cracker in early December and plans to resume commercial production later this month, a company official said. The plant has been shut since March after a fire.

LG Chem plans to restart its cracker in Yeosu between the middle and end of January, a company official said. The cracker, which can produce 1.2 million tonnes of ethylene per year, was shut in November after a fire.

A third petrochemical producer, YNCC, aims to restart one of its crackers in Yeosu on Jan. 14, a company official said, after the completion of maintenance and the planned expansion of the facility.

A second company official said the expansion is expected to be completed in January, raising the facility’s capacity by 335,000 tpy to 915,000 tpy. (Reporting by Heekyong Yang and Florence Tan; Editing by David Goodman and Christian Schmollinger)