01 April 2003 20:55 [Source: ICIS news]
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (CNI)--US chemical industry leaders expressed “cautious optimism” Tuesday about near-term prospects as they concluded the 28th annual International Petrochemical Conference (IPC) here.
Although attendance at this major industry event suffered from the industry downturn and wartime worries, IPC organisers with the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA) termed the turnout “significant” and said the industry shows fundamental strengths and optimism about an upturn in the US and global economies.
NPRA president Bob Slaughter told CNI that “We’re happy with the turnout.” Given the international situation and the economy, Slaughter said, “we think the industry made a significant showing here.”
The final tally for registered participants at this year’s IPC is expected to be between 2550 and 2600, according to Rick Brown, NPRA business manager and petrochemicals director. That represents a 16-18% reduction from the pre-registered count of 3100 and is some 23% below the 3400 attendance figure from the 2002 IPC.
But Slaughter told CNI he found evidence of industry optimism among those attending this year’s event. “The fundamentals of this industry are in pretty good shape going forward,” Slaughter said.
“Those fundamentals could lead to some fairly decent years ahead,” he said.
Doug Culpon, IPC program chairman, said he is “encouraged by what we’ve observed here these three days.”
“There is enormous political and economic uncertainty and great personal concerns about the war in Iraq,” Culpon told CNI, “but I also heard real optimism from our members about both an improvement in demand that will eventually arrive and improvements brought about by substantial cost savings realised in the past year and more.”
Culpon, who is vice president for petrochemicals at Huntsman LLC, said the cost savings and operational tightening that chemical producers have effected leaves the industry “well situated for a recovery when it does come.”
“Like I said at the outset of this conference,” Culpon added, “we’re one year closer to a meaningful recovery than we were 12 months ago.”
Brown also reported hearing from NPRA member firms that “they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. People see an upturn coming.”
But Brown and Slaughter also expressed caution about prospects for a possible recovery, citing the uncertain future for traditional natural gas costs.
“Our major concern is for feedstocks, the supply and price of natural gas,” Brown said. “The solution is more access to our home energy resources. We need that pipeline from Alaska.”
Slaughter said that while he sees industry optimism for the near-term future, “there is a caution too; the gas price is the wild card.”
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