This week's world news

11 May 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

LYONDELLBASELL OWNERSHIP TO CHANGE
US private equity group Access Industries has entered into an agreement with Germany's ProChemie Holding to form a new joint venture that will own LyondellBasell. The new company, to be named ProChemie, will be equally owned by Access Industries and ProChemie Holding. LyondellBasell filed for bankruptcy protection in the US on January 6. The company plans to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of 2009. The deal will give Access Industries flexibility to invest additional funds in LyondellBasell as part of the bankruptcy process, but without triggering unfavorable tax consequences for the company. Access Industries said it would contribute its equity ownership in LyondellBasell in exchange for a 50% interest in ProChemie.

DUPONT TO CUT 2,000 JOBS AMID WEAK MARKETS
DuPont will cut a further 2,000 jobs and rationalize assets to reduce costs amid weaker global market conditions, the US chemical and life sciences group said last week. The company said it would realize about $225m (€169m) in annual savings by the end of 2010. The company said the move would help position the company better for economic recovery following fundamental marketplace shifts and demand declines, especially in auto, construction and industrial markets. In April, DuPont said it would increase its 2009 fixed cost reduction program from $730m, to $1bn.

FLU OUTBREAK PROMPTS FIVE MORE TO MISS APIC
Fears over the global outbreak of swine flu prompted five other Asian petrochemical companies to cancel travel plans to the upcoming Asian Petrochemicals Industry Conference (APIC) in South Korea slated for May 14-15. Thailand's Siam Cement Group (SCG), Taiwan's CPDC, Formosa Petrochemicals, and state-owned CPC have also requested cancellation of travels to South Korea this month, while the Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore (PCS) has also opted out of the two-day conference. Earlier, some Japanese and Chinese companies pulled out.

SAUDI POLYOLEFINS TO START UP NEW PP LINE
Saudi Polyolefins Co. expects to start up its new 270,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) line at Al-Jubail on May 16, more than two months later than originally planned, a source says. "The line will begin producing off-spec PP on May 16, but commercial production will begin only on May 20," the source said. The company had planned to start up the new line at the end of February. But there have been persistent delays due to problems with linking the new line to the existing facility. The company operates a 450,000 tonne/year PP plant and a propane dehydrogenation unit of the same capacity at Al-Jubail.

BOREALIS PREPARES FOR LENGTHY DOWNTURN - CEO
Borealis is considering further cost-cutting measures to ride out the global downturn, with the economic situation showing little sign of recovering. Giving a more conservative economic outlook than much of the chemical sector, Borealis CEO Mark Garrett warned that real demand might not recover before the end of 2010. "We don't see any signs that the global economy is recovering. We see that it has stabilized and expect it to bounce along on the bottom," Garrett told ICIS. Garrett is mulling temporary shutdowns, shortened working hours and job cuts. Borealis reported a first-quarter net loss of €56m ($75m), down from a profit of €130m in the same period last year.

CLARIANT POSTS SWFR91M Q1 NET LOSS AMID DECLINE
Clariant has reported a net loss of Swiss francs (Swfr) 91m ($80.5m) in the first quarter, down from profits of Swfr41m in the same period last year, due to low capacity utilization and inventory devaluations, the Swiss specialty chemical company said. Sales dropped by 24% in Swiss franc terms in the first quarter of 2008. The company recorded an operating loss of Swfr68m, compared with a profit of Swfr140m in the same period last year. Clariant said the quarter was characterized by a steep decline in demand.

GERMAN PLASTICS PRODUCTION DOWN BY 2.5%
Germany's plastics production fell by 2.5% last year, and sales fell 2.0% in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis, the country's plastics industry association said last week. Production was at 20m tonnes, and sales were €22.8bn ($30.4bn), PlasticsEurope Deutschland said. The year was an unprecedented "roller-coaster", with demand first booming before partially collapsing towards the end of 2008, association president Gunter Hilken said. A recovery was not expected before 2010, he said. Hilken called on government and industry to take further steps to ensure that Germany was a competitive location for plastics production.

ASIA STYRENE SNAPS LOSING STREAK, MAY GAIN
Asian styrene monomer (SM) spiked 10%, snapping three straight weeks of losses, as buying interest picked up with renewed optimism that the global economic downturn has started to bottom out, traders said last week. Encouraging data on US energy consumption and on China's industries helped crude futures to rally in crude futures above $56/bbl, influencing SM prices, they said. SM fixtures were heard at $910-925/tonne cost and freight China (€683-694/tonne CFR China), ­traders said, with expectations that prices could gain further ground on the back of tight supply in China.

BRASKEM Q1 PROFIT FALLS 88%, SALES DOWN BY 28%
Braskem's first-quarter net income has fallen by nearly 88% to reais (R) 10m ($4.65m), compared with R80m a year earlier, as revenue fell 28%, the Brazilian petrochemicals major said last week. Revenues for the three months ended March 31 were R3.15bn, down from R4.40bn in the first quarter of 2008. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were R458m, down 24% from last year.

HURRICANES WILL BE MORE POWERFUL, SAYS EXPERT
Future hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico will occur less often, but will be more powerful, according to Gerald North, a geosciences professor at Texas A&M University. The US petrochemical industry is vulnerable to tropical weather, as much of it is concentrated along the Gulf. Gerald North said fewer but stronger storms would come as a result of global temperatures rising by 2.8°C (37°F) over the next 100 years.

GERMANY'S SUD-CHEMIE POSTS 54% DROP IN Q1
German specialty chemical company Sud-Chemie has posted a 54% drop in first-quarter earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to €12.3m ($16.4m). The company said its sales dropped 3% year on year to €261.5m due to lower demand caused by the global economic downturn. "The significantly steeper downturn in first-quarter earnings compared with revenue was due mainly to falling volume sales and subsequent underutilization of production capacity," it said in a statement. Sud-Chemie said the earnings situation "returned to normal" in March, with a sustained solid trend in incoming orders from key segments.

SPAIN'S ERCROS TO CLOSE CHLOR-ALKALI PLANTS
Spanish chemical producer Ercros announced several permanent plant closures late on Tuesday as a response to the global economic downturn. The shutdowns affect caustic soda, chlorine, methylene chloride, chloroform, ethylene dichloride (EDC) and hydrochloric acid (HCl). Ercros will permanently close its caustic soda and chlorine unit at Palos de la Frontera, Spain, which has a capacity of 100,000 tonnes/year of chlorine, and temporarily shut its caustic and chlorine production at Flix, Spain, with a capacity of 150,000 tonnes/year of chlorine. It will permanently shut methylene chloride and chloroform units and permanently lay off 271.

US SOLUTIA POSTS $159M Q1 LOSS ON LOWER SALES
US specialty chemical producer Solutia has posted a first-quarter net loss of $159m (€119m), as lower sales dragged down earnings. During the same period last year, Solutia reported a net income of $1.42bn, a performance derived mostly from a $1.43bn reorganization benefit. Solutia attempted to factor out such one-time benefits by reporting adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Solutia reported an adjusted EBITDA of $56m for the first quarter, down from $95m last year. It attributed the year-on-year decline, in part, to a drop in sales.

HOLLIDAY GETS INTERNATIONAL MEDAL
Former DuPont chairman and CEO Charles Holliday has received the 2009 International Palladium Medal for distinguished contributions to the chemical industry. The medal was awarded by the Societe de Chimie Industrielle-American Section, in a dinner at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City, US. "Chad convincingly made the business case for sustainability and has molded it into a business imperative," said DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman. Whether you believe in the concept of climate change or not, it's worth studying the world's oceans, said Holliday in his acceptance speech.

BANK REDUCES LINDE'S EARNINGS OUTLOOK
UK Investment bank Cazenove has reduced its earnings forecasts for German industrial gases group Linde after it reported a 28% drop in first quarter (Q1) net profit. Cazenove's forecast for Linde's full-year 2009 earnings per share was reduced by 16%, while the 2010 estimate was lowered by 11%. The bank expected Linde to be hit by a further volume decline in the second half of the year, but to rebound in 2010. Linde reported a 28% decline in its Q1 net profits to €115m ($154m), citing "substantial falls in demand" and negative foreign exchange effects.

ARKEMA PLANNING A SALE
French chemical producer Arkema is selling its China-based ceramic opacifiers and polyester resin catalyst operations, as the firm continues to refocus its Functional Additives business. They will be sold to the Singapore-based Hoe Seng Co. group. Production of the additives is based at the Guangzhou site in South China. It employs 105 people and has sales of around €13m/year ($17m/year).

PERU DEMAND FALTERING
Peru's booming demand for plastic products is showing signs of slowing down, said Dow Chemical's sales manager in Peru last Monday at Brasilplast, Latin America's largest plastics trade show. Heavy capital investment in Peru in the past couple of years has reached the point where production capacity has outstripped demand, Alexander Gordillo Hohls said. However, he added that demand could easily catch up in another couple of years.

EXXONMOBIL OUTAGES
US major ExxonMobil has shut down several units for planned maintenance at its Singapore Chemical Plant. The outage was expected to last eight weeks, although the company did not specify which units would be down. The complex consists of a 900,000 tonne/year cracker, a 480,000 tonne/year polyethylene (PE) plant, as well as a 275,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) unit at Jurong Island.

HENKEL POSTS A 46.5% DECLINE IN Q1 NET PROFIT
German adhesives and soap maker Henkel posted a drop of 46.5% in its first quarter net profit to €117m ($156m). Operating profits from its Adhesive segment plunged by 68.6% to €47m due to the strong decline in volumes and the associated decrease in capacity utilization. Sales in the segment, however, grew 7.7% to €1.47bn due to the acquisition of the National Starch businesses in April 2008.

NINGBO MDI UNIT TO HAVE A MID-MAY TURNAROUND
China's largest methyl ­di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI) maker, Yantai Wanhua Polyurethanes, plans to shut one of its Ningbo-based production units from May 15 for scheduled maintenance. The outage at the 300,000 tonne/year MDI unit will last around one month. However, its 200,000 tonne/year MDI facility in Yantai, eastern Shandong province, will be running normally.

WESTLAKE RECORDS LOSS
US-based Westlake Chemical reported a net loss in the first quarter of $6.1m (€4.6m), a slump from profits of $5.4m during the same three months last year. The company reported an operating loss of $900,000, compared with profits of $13.9m in the same period last year. It said these losses reflected lower sales volumes, weakness in the vinyls construction markets, reduced demand for PE, an unscheduled outage caused by an ice storm at its Calvert City facility and a turnaround at one of its ethylene units in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Net sales fell to $488.3m from $915.1m in Q1 2008.

BDO UNIT REMAINS SHUT
China's Shandong Jiatai has no plans to restart its 13,000 tonne/year butanediol (BDO) plant in East China owing to poor economics. It shut last October due to poor demand and falling prices. The shutdown and other supply cutbacks have meant tight supply and higher BDO prices.

DACHSER TO PARTNER VCI
German logistics provider Dachser has been selected as logistics partner for the country's chemical industry association Verband der Chemischen Industrie (VCI). Dachser will develop transport solutions for VCI members for "less-than-container load" chemical shipments of between 31.5kg and 5 tonnes in Europe, it said.

COURT REJECTS MONSANTO'S BAN BID
A German court rejected Monsanto's urgent application for interim relief against the country's ban on the planting of its MON 810 genetically modified corn. Federal agricultural minister Ilse Aigner imposed the ban last month, saying there was "good reason for the assumption" that it posed a danger for the environment. The administrative court in Braunschweig said the ban was not arbitrary, and authorities had assessed risks before imposing it.

ARCH CHEMICALS' Q1 PROFITS SLUMP 44%
US-based specialty chemical producer Arch Chemicals has reported first-quarter (Q1) net income of $3.2m (€2.4m), down by 44% from $5.7m a year ago. Sales fell by 15% amid tough market conditions. Total operating income was $9m, down by 25.6% from $12.1m a year earlier. Sales for the first three months were $293.7m, compared with $347.1m in Q1 of 2008.

EXPLOSION INJURES TWO
An explosion at a fuel blending facility in West Carrollton, Ohio, US, injured two workers last week. The blast occurred at a Veolia Environmental Services facility, but the cause is unknown, according to the authorities.The site takes hazardous waste and distils the chemicals before packaging and reselling them, said Heather Lauer, a spokeswoman for the state of Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency. The company also stores hazardous waste at the site before sending it off in bulk amounts, it is said to have a total storage tank capacity of 400,000 gals (1.51bn liters).

CAOJING CRACKER OUTAGE
Shanghai Secco Petrochemical plans to shut its 900,000 tonne/year naphtha cracker in Caojing, in eastern China, for debottlenecking from May 20. The cracker, the largest in China, will be down for around 70 days to expand its ethylene capacity to 1.2m tonnes/year. The company will also shut its derivative styrene plant at the same site for debottlenecking to raise its capacity to 650,000 tonnes/year from 500,000 tonnes/year.

MOZYR SCRAPS ITS PLANS FOR PARAXYLENE FACILITY
Mozyr, a leading refiner in Belarus, has abandoned plans to build a new paraxylene (PX) facility that was intended to substitute imports from Russia. Mozyr's board said that the facility, which was to have an annual capacity of 120,000 tonnes, was not currently economically viable. Mozyr had planned to start construction on the PX unit in 2008.

Q1 NET LOSS FOR ODFJELL
Norwegian shipping group Odfjell reported a net loss of $8m (€6m) in the first quarter (Q1), down from profits of $15m in the same period last year. This was due to a poor performance in its parcel tanker division caused by lower freight rates, it said. Operating profits fell to $15m from $40m in Q1 2008, while gross revenue dropped to $311m from $357m. Odfjell's parcel tanker division recorded an operating loss of $5m compared with a profit of $24m in the same period a year ago.


By: Will Beacham
+44 20 8652 3214



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