25 June 2008 21:57 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Chemical makers can’t pass on higher feedstock and energy costs fast enough and the strain is beginning to show.
Dow Chemical is a forthright if not aggressive company at the best of times. Its message to the market now is clear. Higher costs have to be passed on in higher prices. The announcement of a 25% across the board price increase, though, is unprecedented.
Producers have begun to wilt under the pressure from sky-rocketing oil and natural gas prices. Dow CEO Andrew Liveris says his company’s price increases are unavoidable although market reaction to earlier price hikes has been as expected.
Not all companies are as upfront as Dow but the industry generally knows it has to raise prices fast if it is not to suffer badly this year, probably just before the petrochemicals and polymers business at least heads into a supply-driven downturn.
Dow says its feedstock and energy costs are up 40% in the first six months of this year compared to the same period of 2007 and that those costs could be as high as $32bn (€20bn) in 2008. That compares with just $8bn in 2002.
The chemicals industry is a sector at the forefront of the sharp increase in costs that will ultimately be felt across industry and the wider economy.
Fears of stagflation are justified. Dow has not been alone in attempting to initiate across the board price increases; other chemical companies will follow suit. Steel makers and producers of other commodities are all talking about pushing their costs down the manufacturing chain.
Dow is a company that is doing a lot right: raising energy efficiencies, striving to become less commodity-oriented and positioned closer to specific end-use markets, but that does not shield it fully from such significant change in such a short period.
Not surprisingly on Tuesday, Dow’s share price was hit hard by the statement of intent and suffered its heaviest fall in two months. But Dow is entirely realistic. The company can’t continue to absorb freight costs in ?xml:namespace>
It also intends to idle temporarily or cut back capacity at some production facilities. These moves have been and will be significant.
Significantly, also, it is not just upstream businesses that are bearing the pain. Dow has already cut back some latex rubber production. It says now that it will implement cutbacks in its automotive business involving plants, people and external spending. Styrofoam production in
The company, alongside many other chemicals makers, has been hit by a double whammy: the sharp run up in feedstock and energy costs and a downturn in significant end-use markets for chemicals - automobiles and construction.
Dow is being hit hardest in the
In the coming weeks the extent of the impact of higher costs, not simply on upstream producers like Dow but on all chemical makers, will become more widely apparent. It will also become more widely apparent that cost inflation is the biggest challenge the industry faces and pushes all others into relative insignificance.
Companies will have to learn how successfully to ride the inflation wave.
($1 = €0.64)
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