16 September 2002 00:00 [Source: ACN]
From stories supplied by the CNI and ACN teams. See www.cnionline.com . For exclusive news and analysis, see the rest of ACN
2 September. Tosoh Corp has revised down its April-September 2002 operating profit by 21% on higher feedstock costs, lower profit margins due to the strengthening yen and slower sales of vinyl chloride monomer. And Tosoh is now projecting a group operating profit of Yen9.5bn (US$80m), down from the original forecast of Yen12bn.
Tosoh has cut its net profit forecast to zero from Yen2bn on sales of Yen225bn.
For the full financial year ending 31 March 2003, it expects operating profit to be short of its previous forecast by 16% to Yen27bn, from Yen32bn.
3 September. Japanese ethylene output rose sharply in July this year, reinforcing predictions by the Ministry for the Economy, Trade & Industry (Meti) that C2 production for the year will top the 7m tonne mark after earlier forecasts that it would dip below that figure for the first time in six years.
Meti's July production figures show output at 647 248 tonne - a 14.9% rise on June's 563 212 tonne and a 15.3% increase on July 2001.
Ethylene shipments rose by 11.4% in July year-on-year to 456 291 tonne, up by 8% on June's figure.
Inventories were stable at 64 590 tonne year-on-year, but increased by 13% on June's figure of 57 159 tonne.
C2 production for H1 2002 was down by 7.1% to 3.43m tonne compared to 3.69m tonne in H1 2001.
Meti forecast a slight increase in ethylene output in the second half of this year to 3.68m tonne which would take total production for the year to 7.15m.
2 September. India's Commissioner of Labour formally granted National Organic Chemicals Industries Ltd (Nocil) permission to close its petrochemical complex at Thane in Maharashtra, India.
The state government's permission clears the decks for the sale of the whole or part of the petrochemical complex.
The company has been facing a liquidity crunch for almost a year. Its total outstanding payment to naphtha supplier Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) amounts to about Rs1.1bn (US$22.7m). Nocil's net sales declined to Rs6.42bn in 2001-02 from Rs8.54bn in 2000-01. The company incurred an operating loss of Rs88.3m and a net loss of Rs704.9m in 2001-02 , compared with a net profit of Rs108.1m in 2000-01.
The Thane complex, which was shut down by the company on 16 April, had the capacity to produce 63 000 tonne/year of ethylene, 37 000 tonne/year of propylene, 17000 tonne/year of benzene and toluene, 60 000 tonne/year of hdPE, 12 000 tonne/year of ethylene vinyl acetate copolymer, 14 000 tonne/year of ethylene oxide and 14 000 tonne/year of acetone.
3 September. DSM announced it would buy the vitamins and fine chemicals division of Swiss pharmaceuticals group Roche for Euro2.25bn (US$2.21bn).
Under the terms of the deal, present and future liabilities from a vitamin price-fixing case will remain with Roche.
The European Commission fined Roche Euro462m last November for participating in a vitamin price-fixing cartel.
Headquartered in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland, Roche's vitamins and fine chemicals division had global sales of SF3.5bn (US$2.3bn) last year and employs 7500 people.
Roche chairman and chief executive Franz Humer said the sale was a significant step for Roche to further concentrate on its two high technology pillars, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics.
The Dutch group said the acquisition, which follows the divestment of its petrochemical activities to Sabic for Euro2.25bn in June, was an important step in its Vision 2005 strategy to focus on life-science products and performance materials.
DSM hopes to grow its sales to around Euro10bn by 2005 through both organic and acquisitive growth.
The deal is subject to approval by antitrust authorities.
4 September. Thailand's Banpu plc said it was having second thoughts about going ahead with plans to acquire Thai Petrochemical Industry's (TPI) power plant, saying it did not want to get involved with the petrochemical major's internal conflicts.
However, a Banpu spokeswoman said there was no truth to local media reports that Banpu chief executive Chanin Vongkusolkit had sent a formal letter to TPI canceling the purchase talks.
She said the company was reconsidering whether to go ahead with the purchase because the union representing the power plant workers was at odds with Effective Planners Ltd (EPL), the administrator of TPI's restructuring plan. Banpu was assessing the risk it would face if it went ahead with the purchase and would make a decision within the next few months, or possibly sooner.
Banpu had earlier proposed an initial payment of US$58m for the power plant, plus a debenture issue of US$12m over a 13-year period and a further US$30m within 30 months of receiving environmental approval to expand the plant.
The sale of the power plant is part of TPI's restructuring plan to raise US$200m by selling non-core assets to help partially settle its US$2.8bn debt.
The sale has become bogged down in the Thai court system after an overwhelming majority of creditors agreed to a request by EPL for a delay. However, the Bankruptcy Court ruled out the creditors' decision on the grounds that a handful of creditors voted against any delay.
EPL has since appealed to the Supreme Court against the Bankruptcy Court ruling, although the case is not expected to be heard for at least another six months.
Meanwhile, the sale of the power plant will remain in limbo.
4 September. Air Liquide and BOC announced they would merge their Japanese businesses in an attempt to cut costs.
A new company, expected to be formed early next year as Japan Air Gases, will be 45% owned by BOC and 55% by Air Liquide Japan.
With combined 2001 sales of Yen138bn (US$1.2bn), it will be one of Japan's leading industrial gases companies. The two parent companies will have equal representation on the board, although Air Liquide will nominate the chief executive.
The merger, expected to generate annual cost savings of Yen5bn within two years, is a response to restructuring in the Japanese industrial gas industry, the companies said. Industrial customers in the country have been shifting production offshore, and the only prospect of growth now comes from local demand for new high-value service industries.
Last year, Air Liquide Japan produced pre-tax profits of Yen6.6bn on sales of Yen79.3bn, while BOC's Japanese operation Osaka Sanso earned Yen4.5bn on sales of Yen59bn.
4 September. Bayer has hinted at the possibility of new job cuts as it implements a strict cost management regime.
New managing board member and labour director Richard Pott said that the European workforce should be prepared for additional job losses.
He added that such measures would be carefully considered and implemented to cause as little social hardship as possible.
Between January and June of this year, Bayer cut more than 1000 jobs in Europe, including 600 in Germany, 200 in France and 100 in the UK and Ireland.
A Bayer spokeswoman confirmed that the management plans to eliminate 10 300 jobs by the end of 2004. However, she was unable to specify where the cuts would take place.
5 September. The chairman, president, vice-president and a director of Japanese chemicals trading powerhouse Mitsui & Co resigned following two graft scandals which battered the company's share price and led to three other company executives being arrested.
The latest scandal, which led to the resignation of Mitsui's top management, follows allegations that the company bribed a Mongolian official to win a contract to build power generators.
The first scandal, which happened in July, saw three other Mitsui executives indicted and imprisoned for allegedly obtaining details about the budget for a contract to build a power plant on the disputed island of Kunashiri, which both Russia and Japan claim as sovereign territory. Two of the three employees who were jailed have since been released, but one of them continues to be held in police custody.
The company has admitted no wrongdoing, but the scandals pushed its share price to Yen610/share on 5 September - a fall of 26% since July.
Ohashi Nobuo, 63, took over as company chairman, replacing Ueshima Shigegi, 70. Shinjiro Shimizu, 64, resigned as president and will be replaced by Utsuda Shoei, 59. Tashiro Jun, 62, relinquished his vice-presidency and Yoshida Haruhiko stepped down as one of the director's of the company. These two senior officers of the company were not immediately replaced.
5 September. Total petrochemical demand in Asia Pacific will increase by an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 6.1% to reach an estimated 85.4m tonne/year by 2006 - up from the current 67.5m tonne/year, according to a study from the US-based Business Communications Co (BCC).
BCC said the total ethylene capacity in the region stood at 27.5m tonne/year, and new ethylene facilities being developed would add 9.4m tonne/year of capacity by 2006.
The study said ethylene demand was highest at 33.1m tonne/year and rising fastest at an AAGR of 7.1%. Demand in 2006 was expected to reach 43.5m tonne/year.
Propylene demand was tipped to rise at an AAGR of 5.8% to 28.9m tonne/year in 2006 while benzene demand would grow at an AAGR of only 3.6% to 13m tonne/year, BCC said.
The study said the petrochemical industry had been one of the most dynamic market sectors of the region from the perspective of market potential for products as well as in terms of investments being made.
Major petrochemical projects that were suspended due to the Asian financial crisis in 1998 had resumed implementation, and new projects were being identified, given the region's rich natural resources.
6 September. Industrial gases giant Praxair announced it would build two new hydrogen plants in the US Gulf Coast region as part of an agreement to supply hydrogen to BP's chemical operations in Texas City, Texas.
Praxair said it would build one of the plants in Texas City but declined to disclose the location of the second facility, noting it might be anywhere between Texas City and New Orleans, Louisiana, along the Texas-Louisiana coast.
The company also declined to provide cost figures for the projects which are scheduled for completion by the second half of 2004.
Each plant will have a hydrogen capacity of 990m m3/year. Including other smaller improvement projects, Praxair said the plants will boost its total capacity by 2.97bn m3/year.
6 September. Analysts said they expect 15 key North American chemical companies to nearly triple their third quarter earnings/share (eps) compared with last year, but a survey showed the annual increase would still mean a 46% decline from two years ago.
Analysts polled by First Call of Boston, Massachussetts, US, said they expect those 15 largest chemical producers to post combined eps of US$4.33 for the third quarter and US$14.66 for the whole year.
Those compare with a combined actual third quarter eps of US$1.58 for last year and US$7.41 for all of 2001.
In 2000, however, those 15 companies posted a combined eps of US$27.14 for the year - US$12.48/share higher than that projected for this year.
Of the 15 companies in the survey, only Canada's Nova Chemicals is expected to report a loss in the third quarter with a consensus figure of 8 cents/share. For the year, the analysts now expect eps losses from three companies: Nova with US$1.06, Lyondell with 48 cents and Millennium with 52 cents.
6 September. Aluminium manufacturer Alcan announced it would close its speciality alumina chemicals factory at Burntisland in Scotland. The factory produces 100 000 tonne/year of aluminium oxide and trihydrate for use in flame retardants and abrasives.
The Canadian-owned company announced its withdrawal from the European specialty chemicals market in January. An Alcan spokeswoman said the company had not been able to find a buyer for the specialty alumina plant.
The company has now begun a three-month consultation process with the plant's 370 employees and union representatives on the proposed closure.
6 September. Nan Ya Plastics received the go-ahead from the Taiwanese government to pursue its 200 000 sheets/month copper clad laminates project in Huizhou, Guangdong, China, a company spokesman said.
The company will next seek approval from the Chinese government for the project which will take 18 months to complete construction.
Nan Ya may expand the new facility to 500 000 sheets/ month at a later stage. But the spokesman stressed that this was not yet a priority.
Nan Ya is also building a 500 000 sheets/month copper clad laminates facility in Kunshan, China. Due to start up in October, the plant may also be expanded to 1m sheets/month in 1-2 years.
6 September. Dongbu Chemical was forced to shut down its styrenics complex at Ulsan, South Korea, after 300 workers walked off the job.
The strike by the workers, mainly plant technicians, led to the shutdown of the company's 210 000 tonne/year styrene plant, 90 000 tonne/year PS unit and 45 000 tonne/year expandable PS plant.
Talks between the management and union were ongoing, with the latter demanding an increase in their annual wages and more benefits.
9 September. Spolana said that nearly 81 tonne of chlorine had leaked from its plant in Neratovice, Czech Republic, as a result of severe flooding last month.
Some 80 tonne had leaked into River Labe, which flows past the Neratovice plant, and the remaining 0.76 tonne had escaped into the air, burning nearby crops and trees.
The Czech PVC producer was not able to assess how much chlorine had actually escaped during three separate chlorine leaks on 15, 20 and 23 August until it had pumped all remaining chlorine from three onsite storage tanks and turned it into the relatively harmless sodium hypochlorite.
9 September. Irreconcilable differences between Indian government ministers have led to a three-month delay for the sale of controlling stakes in two state-owned oil majors, Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL).
The postponement of the BPCL and HPCL privatisation was decided after informal and heated discussions at a meeting of cabinet heavyweights on 7 September and the decision was later endorsed by the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment (CCD) under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It is understood there were no takers at the informal talks between ministers for Disinvestment Minister Arum Shourie's aggressive approach to the privatisation of BPCL and HPCL.
The government also deferred a decision on initial public offerings by BPCL and Indian Oil Corp (IOC), as well as the off-loading of cross-holdings by IOC, the Gas Authority of India Ltd and the Oil and Natural Gas Corp.
However, Shourie said that the government was proceeding with the privatisation of other enterprises which it initiated earlier.
These include Hindustan Organic Chemicals, National Fertilizers Ltd, Madras Fertilizers Ltd, Fertiliser and Chemicals Travancore Ltd, Engineers India Ltd and other non-chemical companies.
At the CCD meeting, it was revealed that the Finance Ministry would submit within one week a paper on proposals to set up an asset management company for public enterprises lined up for privatisation or equity dilution through public offerings.
Shourie admitted that in view of the delay to the sell-off programme, the government would now not be able to achieve its target to raise Rs120bn (US$2.47bn) from the privatisation of state-owned companies during the financial year ending 31 March 2003.
9 September. German chemicals giant BASF said the Shanghai Administration for Industry & Commerce has issued a business license for the establishment of its wholly owned tetrahydrofuran (THF) subsidiary in China.
The subsidiary, BASF Chemicals, will build an integrated facility to produce 80 000 tonne/year of THF and 60 000 tonne/year of polytetrahydrofuran (polyTHF) in the Shanghai Chemical Industry Park at Caojing.
The facility is expected to come onstream in 2004.
The plant will use the company's newly developed proprietary technology, which BASF said eliminated the intermediary step of producing 1,4-butanediol , thereby making production more efficient and cost effective.
According to BASF, the global demand for polyTHF in 2002 will be 200 000 tonne, with the market expected to grow by 5-10%/year.
10 September. National Petrochemical Co (NPC) predicted its Q3 2002 results would be hit by a month-long shutdown of its 100 000 tonne/year propylene dehydrogenation (PDH)unit at Mab Pa Phut, Thailand.
In a statement to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, NPC said the company had to launch an emergency shutdown of the PDHunit and its 435000 tonne/year cracker on 22 August because of a trip in a boiler feed water pump and a problem in the plant's electrical system.
The statement was the first admission by NPC that it was still having problems with its PDH unit.
Ethylene production was resumed on 23 August, but the PDH unit is still under repair.
The PDHunit will not reach full production capacity until 22 September - a shutdown of 31 days, the company said.
10 September. Mitsubishi Chemical and Calgon Carbon Corp of the US announced they would establish a carbon joint venture, Calgon Mitsubishi Chemical, on 1 October with a capitalisation of Yen600m (US$5.05m).
Mitsubishi will hold a 51% stake in the new joint venture and the Pittsburgh-based Calgon Carbon will own 49%. The joint venture will target Yen10bn in annual sales in the fiscal year through to March 2006.
Mitsubishi will transfer its 22 000 tonne/year activated carbon plant at Fukuoka, southern Japan, to the joint venture while Calgon will shift its 3000 tonne/year activated carbon plant at Fukui, central Japan, to the new company.
At the outset, the new company will target the Japanese market, but it will later sell into the rest of Asia.
The spokesman said both companies expected to benefit by having larger operations in an increasingly competitive and congested activated carbons market.
10 September. Dampier Nitrogen, a consortium headed by major Canadian fertiliser company Agrium, has won approval from the Western Australia's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) for the construction of an Aus$900m (US$495.7m) ammonia/urea project on the Burrup peninsula in the state's north-west.
The EPA's recommendation to the state government is subject to appeal from the public until 16 September. Thereafter, provided no appeals are upheld by an independent tribunal, the state government will give its official environmental approval later this month.
Agrium chief operating officer Mike Wilson said earlier the project, which would use natural gas feedstock from the North-West Shelf joint venture, would produce 1.2m tonne/year of granular urea and around 736000 tonne/year of ammonia, 70% of which would go to the Australian agricultural sector.
Agrium expects to achieve financial closure in Q2 2003 and site work is expected to start in Q3 2003.
Other partners in the consortium include Melbourne-based Plenty River and Thiess and Krupp Uhde of Germany.
10 September. Malaysia said its industrial production index rose by 6.9% in July, the biggest increase in 18 months, reflecting higher activity in both the manufacturing and mining sectors.
Preliminary figures from the Department of Statistics showed an 8.1% rise in manufacturing output, and a 4.6% increase in mining in July from a year ago.
Electricity generation was also marginally higher by 0.1%.
Month-on-month, July's industrial production was up 10.4%, compared to a slide of 9% in June.
While most economists had expected an improvement over the weaker numbers a year ago, the extent of the increase was higher than some anticipated.
The government is expected to raise the conservative 3.5% GDP(gross domestic product)growth forecast it made in March this year when it announces its 2003 Budget later in September.
10 September. At least two new Saudi ethylene crackers with a projected 2m tonne capacity will be scrapped if reports are true that Saudi Arabia has cancelled natural gas deals with oil majors led by ExxonMobil, according to New York securities firm Lehman Brothers.
The Lehman Brothers report by analyst Sergey Vasnetsov followed a story in the Wall Street Journal of 9 September which said that Saudi Arabia had notified both ExxonMobil and Shell of a decision not to open its most promising natural gas fields to the companies.
However, ExxonMobil refused to comment on the reports. Oil majors to respond to Saudi rejection, p24
11 September. Samsung Engineering has been awarded a US$135m turnkey contract to build Indian Oil Corp's n-paraffin/linear alkylbenzene (LAB) project at its Baroda refinery in Gujarat, India, a company source said.
The project will produce n-paraffin which will be for captive use in the 120 000 tonne/year LAB facility, it said.
UOP has been appointed as the licensor for the project while Uhde India is the project management consultant. Construction is due to be completed by August 2004.
11 September. Celanese said that its carbon monoxide (CO) gas supplier Singapore Syngas should have fixed its production problems on Jurong Island, Singapore, during the third quarter.
Celanese has operated under force majeure at its acetic acid and downstream plants in Singapore since 12 July when a problem at Singapore Syngas interrupted CO supplies.
A temporary fix allowed Celanese to resume production at reduced rates towards end-August, but it was unsure when a permanent solution would be in place.
Lydon Cole, president of Celanese Chemicals, said he was confident the permanent fix would be in place during Q3. He added that the Celanese plants affected were now running at normal capacity utilisation rates.
By finding alternative sources of acetic acid from other Celanese sites, the force majeure had only affected spot customers, he added.
Cole said that some of the millions of losses in Euro caused by the problem would be recouped through insurance claims and compensation from Singapore Syngas.
11 September. DuPont Fluoroproducts and China Nuclear Honghua Specialty Gases will build a new production and purification facility in China as part of a joint-venture agreement aimed at increased production of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), DuPont announced.
The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal, their investment plans or anticipated capacity. DuPont said it expected to disclose no more information until the letter of intent became more formalised early next year.
However, DuPont did say the venture would build the new plant in Chengdu where Honghua Specialty Gases is headquartered.
DuPont will hold a majority position in the joint venture, which will market product globally under the Zyron brand for the semiconductor manufacturing and flat panel display markets.
The companies hope to have the new facility operating by the middle of 2005.
11 September. Mitsui & Co said it expects to achieve financial closure for its US$385m joint-venture methanol project in Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia, within two months.
A Mitsui source said investors were in an advanced stage of concluding a loan of around US$182m. The Saudi Industrial Development Fund had agreed to extend a US$107m loan while 25% of the project's cost would be funded by equity.
The 957 000 tonne/year project is owned 65% by Saudi International Petrochemical Co and 35% by a consortium of Japanese companies led by Mitsui.
Mitsui will take a 20% stake in the project and three other Japanese companies - Mitsubishi Corp, Daicel Chemical Industries and Iino Kaiun Kaisha - will take 5% each.
The project is due to be mechanically completed at end-2004 and reach commercial production in early 2005.
11 September. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) presented an upbeat report of its investment picture. Gone are the often-heard warnings of a diversion of foreign direct investment (FDI) to emerging markets like China. The new message is recovery - of both FDI and indigenous Asean investment. At a meeting in Brunei, the Asean Investment Area Council said that from 2000 to 2001, FDI rose by 13.4% to US$13.06bn from US$11.52bn a year earlier, mainly due to inflows from the traditional sources of the US, Europe and Japan. Intra-Asean investment rose by 10%. The four sources made up 88% of total FDI flow into and within Asean in 2001.The council said the outlook for FDI flow into Asean would continue to improve.
12 September. Sasol will complete its purchase of China-based Condea Nanjing Chemical by the end of the month, the South African fuels and chemicals group confirmed.
Sasol agreed the terms of the deal with the Chinese company's majority owner, German utilities giant RWE-DA, in the summer. It acquired the European assets of the Condea chemicals business from RWE in March 2001 for US$1.15bn.
Sasol will acquire the 30% share of Condea Nanjing Chemical currently held by the Nanjing Surfactants Factory.
Sasol revealed the agreement while announcing its financial results for the year ending June 2002. The acquisition of Condea almost doubled sales from the group's chemicals division, Sasol Chemical Industries (SCI), to Rand42.4bn (US$4bn).
Condea, now known as Sasol Chemie, has now been split between SCI's existing olefins/surfactants business and its solvents business.
12 September. Finland's Dynea is planning a worldscale resin and formaldehyde plant in Canada's Alberta province, officials confirmed.
Dynea said the company was negotiating to finalise the purchase of a site near Grande Prairie, Alberta, and was working to obtain the required permits.
Although it characterised the project as worldscale, Dynea did not disclose specific capacity data or a startup target. The new plant's output will be aimed at Western Canada's growing panelboard industry, Dynea said.
12 September. Ineos Phenol declared force majeure on phenol and acetone from its plant in Mobile, Alabama, US, and said it would not know until next week how soon it might be able to ship the products again.
At the same time, Shell Chemicals said its phenol unit in Deer Park, Texas, US, would be down until early next week for repair of an air compressor and some other normal maintenance. The plant had been out since 7 September, according to Shell. These developments have players in the acetone and phenol markets watching their movements closely, according to analysts.
One analyst said some fourth quarter pricing agreements had been delayed while traders waited to assess the situation with the Ineos plant, which makes 400 000 tonne/year of phenol - about 14% of North America's production and 5% of global capacity. It also makes 260 000 tonne/year of acetone.
Reports from Europe indicated that the Mobile plant might be out for as long as a year but Alberto Spera, vice president for sales at the Mobile plant, said he could not speculate on that until next week.
12 September. President George W Bush was preparing to challenge the United Nations on Thursday to a high-stakes choice between taking action to enforce its resolutions on Iraq or risk irrelevance, US officials said.
A senior administration official said that the blunt tone of the speech might leave some of the world leaders in Bush's audience squirming in their seats.
The official said the United Nations would risk irrelevance if it failed to act. That could leave the door open to the United States acting on its own, but officials said it was unclear whether Bush would make that link explicit.
Bush was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on 12 September, where he would lay out his case for action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to an audience of world leaders who had been largely sceptical or opposed to a potential war against Iraq.
The White House said it would also release a 22-page, point-by-point rundown of what it said were Iraq's violations of UN resolutions.
12 September. Three executives of Effective Planners Ltd (EPL), the debt plan administrator for Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI), have been fined Baht44 000 (US$1036) for what the Southern Bangkok District Court described as 'petty offences' relating to their work permits.
EPL faced two charges relating to the location and scope of their work as the administrator of a debt restructuring plan to reduce TPI's US$2.8bn debt.
The court cleared the EPL executives in relation to the location where they were entitled to work, but ordered the fine on the grounds that the company's business licence and its executives' work permits did not provide them with the credentials to manage a debt restructuring plan.
EPL said it planned to appeal against the court decision immediately, saying its appointment as TPI's plan administrator had been sanctioned by the Bankruptcy Court and confirmed by the Supreme Court in a ruling on 10 June 2002 which said EPL had all the qualifications needed to act as administrator.
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