23 December 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
Following the signing of the MoU at end-November, Tong Yang is conducting due diligence on Kohap's 87 000 tonne/year PA and 52 000 tonne/year DOP plants.
Kohap hopes to conclude a final agreement with Tong Yang by 20 December.
6 December. Samsung General Chemicals (SGC) expects to raise the capacity of its 600 000 tonne/year ethylene cracker to 650 000 tonne/year in a 28-day turnaround and debottlenecking scheduled to begin at the end of April 2003.
The cracker at Daesan, South Korea, is included in the assets that are scheduled to be transferred in 2003 to the Euro1.5bn (US$1.5bn) joint-venture company recently agreed on by SGC and French major Atofina.
The 50:50 joint venture is due to be launched in the first quarter of 2003. The companies have agreed to complete due diligence as soon as possible.
6 December. Yeochun Naphtha Cracker Centre (YNCC) is planning to expand the capacity of its No1 cracker at Yeochun, South Korea, by 20 000 tonne/year to 485 000 tonne/year during a 28-day turnaround which is scheduled to begin on 21 March 2003, according to a company spokesman.
The spokesman said YNCC's labour problems had forced the company to reschedule the turnaround.
The original date of 7 October was pushed back after a wage-related strike broke out at Yeochun in August.
YNCC operates three crackers with capacities of 465 000 tonne/year, 530 000 tonne/year and 385 000 tonne/year.
6 December. Akzo Nobel has taken full control of its German chlorine, caustic soda and derivatives joint venture ECI Elektro-Chemie (ECI).
Akzo Nobel said that its Base Chemicals business had agreed to acquire German travel and tourism group TUI's 50% stake in ECI.
Financial terms of the deal, which has retroactive effect from 1 October, were not disclosed.
ECI produces chlorine, caustic soda and derivative products in Bitterfeld and Ibbenburen.
The company has total annual sales of Euro90m (US$89.6m) and employs about 240 people. It was formed as a joint venture in 1960 but two years ago TUI said it planned to divest its stake to concentrate on tourism.
A spokesman for TUI said that the funds raised from the sale would be used to pay down debts incurred from travel and tourism acquisitions.
6 December. Bayer's Euro215m (US$214m) sale of its rubber additives subsidiary Rhein Chemie to private equity firm Advent International has collapsed. No reasons were given for the failure.
In a statement, Bayer said the sale had been dissolved by common consent after the parties were unable to reach agreement on a number of outstanding points.
Bayer said it might try to sell the unit again or re-integrate it with Bayer Polymers.
Rhein Chemie generated Euro322m in sales last year and has around 1100 employees. It is an international supplier of specialities to the rubber, lubricant and plastics industries.
7 December. Investment in Brazil's chemical sector declined by 9% in 2002 to US$1bn, and investments are likely to continue to decline in coming years, industry leaders said.
Carlos Mariani Bittencourt, president of the Brazilian Chemicals Industry Association, told the association's annual conference that the expected decline in investment in the Brazilian chemical industry would mean an average of US$950m being invested annually in the sector in 2003-07.
Mariani said declining investments could be due to the fact that many of the groups that invested heavily in increased chemicals capacity and new plants had not had significant returns because of high interest rates and the devaluation of the Brazilian Real.
Many of Brazil's largest chemical companies, including Braskem, have put new investments on hold and are focusing on debt reduction, he noted.
Mariani expects Brazil to remain a net importer of chemical products in the short and medium term.
7 December. Shell announced it had appointed Jeroen van der Veer as chief executive of its chemical business from 1 January 2003.
Van der Veer, who is president of Royal Dutch Petroleum Co and vice-chairman of the managing directors committee of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of companies, takes over from Evert Henkes, who retires in April 2003 after a career of almost 30 years with Shell.
However, Henkes will remain chairman of the board of Shell's Basell polyolefins joint venture with BASF and vice-chairman of the Nanhai joint venture with China National Offshore Oil Corp until his retirement in April 2003.
9 December. The Thai Bankruptcy Court has cleared the way for TPI Polene's creditors to remove founder and administrator Prachai Leo-phairatana as the company's debt administrator by rejecting his petition to maintain control of the debt-ridden company, a court spokesman said on Monday.
The court also rejected Prachai's plan to raise US$180m by offering TPI Polene shares to the public to raise funds for debt repayment.
Creditors of TPI Polene are seeking Prachai's removal as administrator of the company's US$1.2bn debt restructuring plan.
The creditors' steering committee has said it needs the support of those holding two-thirds of the company's debt to have Prachai removed and that the target was easily obtainable.
No date for the creditor vote has yet been set.
9 December.An engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for Saudi Arabian Fertiliser Co's (Safco) No4 ammonia-urea project in Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia, is likely to be chosen in the first quarter of 2003, a source close to the project said.
Shortlisted contractors held clarification meetings last month with Safco on commercial matters related to their bids.
A decision on the selection is expected shortly following another meeting to be held in Saudi Arabia next month to clarify technical specifications.
The shortlisted bidders are Toyo Engineering, Chiyoda Corp, Krupp Uhde and a consortium formed by Snamprogetti and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The project, due to produce 3000 tonne/day (990 000 tonne/year) of ammonia and 3250 tonne/day of urea, is expected to come onstream in 2005.
9 December. Japan's ethylene production increased by 1.6% last month to 618 800 tonne compared with November 2001, preliminary data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed.
November output was 3.3% higher than in October 2002, with no cracker shutdowns during the month.
The latest figures now make it certain that Japan's ethylene output will top 7m tonne for the whole of 2002 - despite warnings by the Japan Petrochemical Industry Association early in the year that it could fall below that level for the first time for six years.
9 December. Mitsui Chemicals is likely to include phenol production if it decides to go ahead with the building of a bisphenol-A (BPA) facility in Zhapu Industrial Petrochemical Park, Jiaxing city, Zhejiang, China, a source close to the project said.
Mitsui is considering building a BPA plant in Zhapu to provide feedstock to Teijin Chemicals' planned polycarbonate (PC) project at the same site.
Teijin plans to produce 50 000 tonne/year of PC by early 2005 and another 50 000 tonne/year at a later stage.
10 December. Teijin Polycarbonate has started up its 50 000 tonne/year polycarbonate (PC) line on Jurong Island, Singapore, boosting local output to 180 000 tonne/year, a company source said.
Currently the world's No4 PC producer, Teijin's aim is to rise to the No3 position in the mid-term. The company did not specify when it hopes to achieve this target.
The Japanese major presently produces a total of 300 000 tonne/year of PC in Japan and Singapore, following the addition of the fourth line in Singapore.
Teijin recently announced plans to build a PC plant in Jiaxing, Zhejiang, China, which will initially produce 50 000 tonne/year by early 2005 and another 50 000 tonne/year at a later stage.
10 December. The Indian government has broken a three-month political stalemate over the sale of its stakes in downstream majors Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) and Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL).
It will now sell a controlling stake in HPCL to a strategic investor via competitive bidding. The government currently owns 51.01% in HPCL, with investors holding the remaining 48.99%.
In the case of BPCL, the government is to dilute its 66.2% stake by allowing the company to conduct an initial public offering. The remaining 33.8% of BPCL is held by institutional and retail investors.
The decisions on disinvestments were disclosed by Minister for Disinvestment Arun Shourie in Parliament.
The government had postponed the BPCL and HPCL sell-offs for three months on 7 September due to discontent in the Cabinet over privatisation.
10 December. European Union (EU) ministers have been asked to suspend import tariffs on a wide range of chemical products because of concern that demand is outstripping supply in the EU.
The removal of duties would be indefinite, although the European Commission would review their removal within a year. The reductions would come into force on 1 January if they are approved.
The long list of chemical products affected includes tellurium dioxide, potassium hexafluorophosphate, carbon tetrafluoride (tetrafluoromethane), and many other chemical lines.
11 December. Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) is expected to take up a seven-year syndicated US$217m loan led by Citibank and Bank of China for its planned projects in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China, a company source revealed.
The loan will help finance the building of a 250 000 tonne/year ABS project, a power station and a 300 000 tonne/year PVC project undertaken by FPG's affiliates - Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp (FCFC) and Formosa Plastics Corp (FPC).
Construction has already commenced on these projects.
FCFC is expected to initially bring onstream 150 000 tonne/year of ABS and the power project at the end of 2003. The capacity of the ABS project will be raised to 250000 tonne/year at a later stage.
FPC is due to start up the 300 000 tonne/year PVC project in mid-2004.
11 December. BASF confirmed that it has completed the planned shutdown of two older ethylene oxide (EO) plants and an ethylene glycol (EG) facility at its Geismar complex in Louisiana, US.
BASF noted that closure of the EG plant at Geismar marks the end of its EG production in the US.
The company plans to focus on its purified EO business in the US.
One of the older EO plants at Geismar was shut down in August, a BASF spokesman said, shortly after the company announced the planned closures in July.
The second EO plant was shuttered in September, and the EG unit was closed in October. The shuttered EO plants had a combined capacity of 270000 tonne/year. The EG unit had annual output of 400000 tonne.
The company has a year-old EO unit at Geismar, with a capacity of 220 000 tonne for purified EO, that remains operational.
11 December. The US Federal Reserve voted to leave key interest rates unchanged, saying the US economy was working its way through its current soft spot and did not need an additional interest rate stimulus.
The Fed, the US central bank, said it was holding the benchmark federal funds rate unchanged at 1.25%.
The Fed's rate-setting Open Market Committee (FOMC) said in a statement that its accommodative stance of monetary policy, coupled with still robust underlying growth in productivity, was providing important ongoing support to economic activity.
The FOMC cut the federal funds rate by 50 basis points at its meeting last month, and another rate cut this month was widely thought to be unlikely.
The next meeting of the FOMC will be 28-29 January.
11 December. Ellba Eastern lifted its declaration of force majeure on styrene monomer/propylene oxide (SM/PO) following the resumption of operations at its plants on Jurong Island, Singapore, the BASF-Shell joint venture said. The force majeure was declared by Ellba Eastern on 15 November.
Ellba, a joint venture between Shell and BASF, produces 250 000 tonne/year of PO and 550 000 tonne/year of styrene monomer. The SM/PO output is marketed by Shell and BASF individually.
Ellba's force majeure declaration followed a similar declaration on ethylene and propylene by ExxonMobil a few days earlier.
ExxonMobil, which declared force majeure in mid-November following an unexpected shutdown of its 800000 tonne/year Jurong Island cracker, ended its force majeure declaration on propylene supplies to its customers on 5 December after lifting its declaration on ethylene supplies two days earlier.
11 December. Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) said it saw no sign of recovery for the European chemical sector in 2003 and warned that the situation would be very tough for leveraged companies.
European chemical team director Nicholas Badouin said at S&P's European Chemicals Outlook 2003 seminar that 2003 might look very much like 2002.
Lower-than-expected cash flows would put pressure on the covenants of highly leveraged firms, he said, citing Dynea and Vantico in particular as facing problems with liquidity.
The fine chemicals sector would face a particularly difficult time, Badouin said. Delays in US Food and Drug Administration approvals were putting pressure on the pharmaceuticals sector.
In addition, he said that most players were increasing output in fine chemicals and this would lead to excess capacity.
The only bright spot that Badouin could identify for 2003 was that a lot of capacity had been mothballed, which meant the chemicals industry would be in a better shape to respond when the recovery came.
12 December. The US natural gas industry will experience increasing turmoil in 2003 as more gas distributors go bankrupt, the chief executive officer of the world's largest privately-held chemical company said.
Peter Huntsman, head of Huntsman, said the natural gas industry would continue to change, not only because of market conditions but also due to economics.
He said while Enron was the first to fall, he thought there would be some other major gas suppliers in the industry that would not be around in the next 12 months.
Huntsman said that during 2000-01 many of these distributors practised unethical, felonious practices such as bogus trades which drove up the price of gas.
He said the industry was affected by crooked people at the top who manipulated the market which was led to believe that there was a legitimate, severe shortage.
12 December. ExxonMobil resumed full operations at its Singapore cracker complex on Jurong Island following a resumption of oxygen supplies from Island Pipeline Gases (IPG), a company spokesman said.
The major said its 150 000 tonne/year oxo-alcohol plant - the last of its units to be affected by the outage - was back to full capacity after being forced to close following IPG's force majeure declaration on oxygen supplies in late November.
IPG is a joint venture between Air Products and Singapore Oxygen Air Liquide.
Despite the cut-off in oxygen supplies, ExxonMobil restarted its 800 000 tonne/year cracker, PE and PP plants in early December after a shutdown on 10 November caused by a hydrocarbon leakage.
12 December. Iran's National Petrochemical Co (NPC) plans to include hdPE and PP production in its cracker complex in Ilam, Iran.
The company's latest news bulletin reported that the 202 000 tonne/year cracker, expected onstream in 2006, will have downstream plants of 300 000 tonne/year of hdPE and 50 000 tonne/year of PP. However, a source close to the project said that the capacity of the hdPE unit was likely to be closer to 200 000 tonne/year.
The complex will also produce 33 000 tonne/year of mixed C4s, 46 000 tonne/year of pyrolysis gasoline and 10000 tonne/year of fuel oil.
Feedstock will be sourced from a nearby gas refinery which is still under construction.
NPC is in the process of preparing invitation-to-bid documents for the ethane-based cracker.
12 December. A preferred buyer for KP Chemical is unlikely to be chosen until after South Korea's presidential election on 19 December, so any decision on the acquisition is expected to be at least two weeks away, according to a source close to the company.
He said financial advisers to KP Chemical had hoped to select the preferred bidder by 13 December, but delays by the company's creditors had pushed back the decision.
KP Chemical's nine major creditors, which hold more that 50% of the company's debt, have to make a decision on the buyer before a meeting of the company's 47 creditors.
The source said some creditors had yet to make a decision.
Industry sources said that Reliance Industries has emerged as the frontrunner in the race for the acquisition of KP Chemical. Other bidders are said to include Mitsubishi Chemical and South Korean hatmaker YoungAn.
KP Chemical's debts are estimated at Won80bn (US$66.21m) and its total asset value is said to be Won120bn, with its debt-to-equity ratio up to 150%.
12 December. The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC), South Korea's chief antitrust regulator, ruled that Kolon Industrial must sell one of Kohap Corp's nylon lines in order to be able to purchase the other line.
The KFTC gave Kolon until end-February to make a reasonable attempt to sell off one of the two lines at Kohap's nylon plant to Hyosung Corp, a rival nylon manufacturer, in order to retain balance in the domestic market. One of the lines must be sold eventually, whether to Kolon or another party.
Kolon agreed to buy Kohap's 7700 tonne/year nylon plant, which consists of two lines, and 29 700 tonne/year polyester film plant for US$38m at end-September.
13 December. The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) agreed to raise its official oil production ceiling to 23m bbl/day from 21.7m bbl/day.
However, the oil exporters' cartel also agreed to reduce output by 1.7m bbl/day in a move which sent crude prices to their highest levels since late October.
The agreement should result in an effective cutback in production as producers have agreed to stick to the new 23m bbl/day target following months of over-production, which some analysts estimate to be 3m bbl/day.
The deal is effective for Q1 2003. Opec will meet in March to review prices and production.
12 December. Troubled metal-based speciality chemical producer OM Group (OMG) said it was eliminating 550 jobs, taking a US$335m (Euro328.4m) fourth quarter restructuring charge and selling US$100m in non-core assets to strengthen its balance sheet.
OMG said it expected to save US$35m in 2003 by eliminating various positions. It did not specify where the job reductions would be.
13 December. Dow Chemical replaced Michael Parker as chief executive officer (CEO), citing the company's disappointing financial performance over the last two years.
The Midland, Michigan-based company named former ceo and president William Stavropoulos, 63, as its new president and chief executive.
In a brief statement, the company said the board had reached the decision solely in light of its disappointing financial performance over the last eight quarters, with this year's results expected to show no improvement from last year. It added that no concern of impropriety was reflected in the board's decision.
13 December. European Commission (EC) anti-trust officials investigating an alleged cartel among synthetic rubber producers raided the offices of DSM and Bayer.
DSM and Bayer confirmed that officials had collected documents relating to their synthetic rubber businesses.
A DSM spokesman said officials inspected the company's international sales office in Sittard and headquarters in Heerlen, The Netherlands, and that the DSM was co-operating fully.
A Bayer spokesman said EC officers visited the offices of its rubber business in Leverkusen, near Cologne, Germany.
Bayer said it was also co-operating with the investigation.
16 December. Optimal Olefins' 600 000 tonne/year cracker at Kerteh, Malaysia, was being ramped up to 100% after restarting on 14 December, Optimal chief executive Bob Kisker said.
Optimal achieved on-spec production on Saturday and the company's ethylene derivative units would build up to 100% capacity within days, Kisker said.
Optimal shut down its cracker and downstream glycol units in early November after a technical fault at the cracker compounded problems it was already having with its propane dehydrogenation unit.
The company had cut back the output of its 95 000 tonne/year propylene unit in late October.
Kisker said production at its propylene unit was still somewhat restricted and added that the plant would not be operating at full capacity for several months.
17 December. Japan's Fair Trade Commission (FTC) approved the planned merger between Sumitomo Chemical and Mitsui Chemicals, clearing the way for the formation of the world's fifth largest petrochemical company.
The FTC said the two companies' business integration plan had met its criteria under the country's anti-monopoly laws.
However, the FTC said the companies would be required to relinquish business rights domestically for aniline, resorcinol and m-cresol/p-cresol, which means they must sell a certain level of these products at cost to intermediaries or rival firms within two years of the merger.
The total merger of all of Sumitomo and Mitsui's group companies is scheduled to involve the creation of a holding company on 1 October 2003. The entire merger is due to be completed by 31 March 2004.
17 December. LG Chem has raised its ABS production capacity to 800 000 tonne/year from 650 000 tonne/year, making it the world's third largest producer of ABS following expansions at its plants in South Korea and China.
The company held a dedication ceremony on 17 December for its expanded ABS facility, LG Yongxing Chemical Ltd, in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China. LG Yongxing, the largest ABS producer in China, will now be able to produce 300 000 tonne/year of ABS after increasing its capacity by 150 000 tonne/year.
The company expects the Chinese ABS market to grow by 8.2% annually until 2005.
17 December. Venezuela's opposition stepped up its campaign to force the resignation of President Hugo Chavez as the country's general strike entered its fifteenth day and third week.
Oil exports had been brought to a complete halt, which contributed to a surge in naphtha prices (see p28).
The strike's organisers, who accuse Chavez of authoritarianism and incompetence, blocked key highways in the capital Caracas with a large turnout of protesters.
Chavez refused to comply with the opposition's request for fresh elections in the oil-rich country. He showed no sign of backing down and swore he would not be forced out of office by 'a group of managers, businessmen, coupmongers and media tycoons'.
The leftist president stepped up attempts to keep state-owned energy giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) operational.
However, the general strike has hit PDVSA and its petrochemicals subsidiary Pequiven extremely hard. Operations at Venezuela's state-run petrochemicals firm Pequiven were totally paralysed with all three of its petrochemical complexes completely shut down.
The company's president Edgar Paredes was sacked by Pequiven's parent company, state-owned energy giant Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), because of his support for the strike.
PDVSA was forced to declare force majeure earlier in December because of the general strike's impact on its operations. Pequiven has yet to declare force majeure, although that formal move is expected within days.
18 December. A law banning Taiwanese stores and restaurants from supplying free plastic bags and utensils will come into effect on 1 January 2003 despite industry warnings that 50 000 jobs could be lost as a result, a spokesman for the country's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said.
Thousands of workers in Taiwan's plastic processing industry staged a protest this week, claiming that the ban would worsen the country's unemployment problems.
The EPA spokesman said that while the petrochemical industry's job loss forecast was probably accurate, many of the jobs lost would be balanced out as new employment should be created as chain stores and retailers switched to bags made from recycled material.
Taiwan convenience stores, supermarkets, department stores and restaurants will be prohibited from supplying free bags made of PE, PP, PS and PVC from 1 January. Consumers must buy new bags or supply their own.
18 December. Seven speciality graphite manufacturers will forfeit a total of Euro60.6m (US$59.2m) in fines for their role in a price-fixing cartel, the European Commission (EC) announced.
The EC said the cartel artificially inflated the prices of isostatic moulded graphite products from 1993 until 1998.
The companies fined were Germany's SGL Carbon (Euro27.75m), France's Carbone-Lorraine (Euro6.97m), Holland's Intech EDM (Euro0.98m), and Japanese companies Toyo Tanso (Euro10.79m), Tokai Carbon (Euro6.97m), Ibiden (Euro3.58m) and Nippon Steel Chemical (Euro3.58m).
The companies have three months in which to pay.
Another member of the cartel, US-based Graftech, blew the whistle on the conspiracy.
In return, the EC gave it immunity from any punishment.
19 December. Burrup Fertilisers is to start construction work on its planned 760 000 tonne/year ammonia plant on the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia, early in 2003, having secured finance for the Aus$630m (US$356.6m) project.
The company, part of India's Oswal Group, said detailed engineering work on the project had already started and construction was scheduled to start after the New Year.
Burrup Fertilisers is the first company to go ahead with construction on the Burrup Peninsula, where the Federal and Western Australian governments hope to establish a worldscale gas-processing centre, based on plentiful natural gas supplies in the area.
The company earlier signed a 25-year gas supply contract with Western Australia's Harriet joint venture, which Harriet partner Tap Oil said today was worth over Aus$1bn.
The go-ahead for the project follows the signing of Native Title Agreements with aboriginal elders earlier in the year and most recently, planning approval by the Shire of Roebourne.
Burrup Fertilisers said the project would provide up to 500 jobs during construction and 60 jobs after it came into operation. The plant, which is scheduled for commissioning in 2005, has a design capacity of over 2200 tonne/day (726 000 tonne/year) of liquid ammonia.
Burrup Fertilisers said 100% of the plant's output would go to Norsk Hydro following the signing earlier of an offtake agreement between the two companies.
19 December. Dow Chemical's newly elected president and chief executive Bill Stavropoulos has pledged to restore the US giant's strong financial performance by improving productivity and cutting costs in a far-reaching drive he says will save US$1bn in 2003.
Stavropoulos, who replaced Michael Parker as chief executive officer (ceo) on 13 December, said Dow had been under-performing for the past eight quarters - the reason given by the company for Parker's replacement.
In a live satellite broadcast message to employees, Stavropoulos said the company's new strategy would touch every part of the company and job losses could not be discounted. He said Dow had not earned enough money to pay dividends and had borrowed money to pay them. Dow's debt ratio was too high and was compromising future growth, he added.
19 December. Mitsubishi Rayon, Jiangsu Xinya Chemical, Sinochem and Mitsubishi Corp are to construct 30 000 tonne/year dimethylformanide and 24 000 tonne/year methylamine plants at Changgzhou, Jiangsu, China, which will be brought onstream in Q4 2004.
The plants will be part of a production and sales joint venture into which will be invested US$20m. A new company to run the joint venture will be launched in February.
19 December. Monsanto has become the second major US chemical industry player in the past week to lose its top executive with Wednesday's resignation of Hendrik Verfaillie, an event that sent the company's stock tumbling 11%.
Verfaillie's resignation from St Louis, Missouri-based Monsanto comes just three days after Dow Chemical's board of directors removed Michael Parker as its president and chief executive officer.
Monsanto said board chairman Frank AtLee will serve as interim chief executive while the company conducts a search for a successor to Verfaillie, who held both the chief executive and president titles.
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