Economy woes to hit US Sep import/exports

13 November 2008 15:46  [Source: ICIS news]

By Brian Ford

Economy to hit exports and importsHOUSTON (ICIS news)--The global economic slowdown and other factors could have an impact on US September chemical import/export numbers to be released on Thursday, sources said.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) was scheduled on Thursday to release September import/export data on a wide range of chemical products such as glycerine, chloroform, caustic soda and vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), among others.

Kevin Swift, top economist for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said he expected US exports to moderate in the near future “primarily due to the deterioration of the industrial and economic situation in the rest of the world”.

The slowdown of economic growth in China may have a big influence on the import/export picture, Swift said.

China reached an economic plateau in June, Swift said.

According to the ACC’s chemical production volume activity index, China peaked at 259.5 points in June, compared with 100 points in 2002, Swift said. It has since fallen to 257 points in July and 256 in August.

An expected boost in demand in Asia following the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, never materialised as the global economic crisis deepened, one ethylene glycol (EG) trader said.

The China situation quickly closed the arbitrage window for US exporters, who faced anaemic demand at home. 

The combination of late-spring production cuts by some major domestic ethylene glycol (EG) producers somewhat shielded supply holders from the drop in off-season demand, a US trader said.

China's post-Olympic drop off could also drag down US exports of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which have increased for much of the year.

US polyvinyl chloride (PVC) exports were 727,500 tonnes in the first half of 2008, up by 69% from the same period one year earlier, according to the ITC, but that situation could change.

PVC export prices fell in October in part due to competition from lower-priced PVC exports from China, where local demand did not recover as expected after the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

As a result, the domestic market in China quickly became oversupplied when production returned to full force.

In addition to China, hurricanes Gustav and Ike could also affect September's import/export figures. A wave of plants shut down in the wake of the storms.

Many plants were shut down for weeks following the storms, resulting in significant production losses.

The beginning of the meltdown on Wall Street was another factor that could affect September’s import/export numbers as credit issues hit various markets.

A weaker US dollar helped to bolster US exports in 2007 and part of 2008, but the dollar has strengthened in recent months.

Swift said it usually takes 6-9 months for significant changes in exchange rates to be felt among imports and exports.

However, the stronger dollar has had a more immediate impact in Latin American markets, sources said.

“We have seen our PVC sales drop by 20% and with the stronger dollar the feedstocks are still expensive even though their prices have dropped” a Latin American PVC producer said.

“TDI [toluene di-isocyanate] is in a free fall here and the Latin American currencies have fallen against the dollar, making business that much more difficult,” a Latin American trader said.

Additional reporting by Gene Lockard and Leela Landress

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By: Brian Ford
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