NPRA ’10: Recovery, new capacities to dominate conference

27 March 2010 18:00  [Source: ICIS news]

NPRA petchem conference to begin on SundayHOUSTON (ICIS news)--The slow recovery of the global economy and the new production capacity coming on line in the Middle East and Asia are just two items that are sure to be topics of discussion at this year’s International Petrochemical Conference.

Hosted by the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the event will begin on Sunday in San Antonio, Texas, and will continue through Tuesday.

Last year, overall attendance at several petrochemical conferences fell due to the global economic downturn.

However, better attendance at the Chemical Market Associates Inc (CMAI) 2010 World Petrochemical Conference in Houston this week augers well for the NPRA event.

Attendance reached about 850 at the 23-25 March CMAI event, said Dora Silva, executive assistant for the Houston-based consultant group.

Last year, attendance was 600-650, reflecting the downturn in the global economy, Silva said.

This year’s attendance reflects the recovery in the markets, she said. It was comparable to attendance in 2007.

Some talk of recovery in the industry has surfaced at other recent petrochemical conferences.

The global paraxylene (PX) market will pick up steam in April and continue to grow in the next five years, Dewitt & Co consultant Edgar Acosta told participants at his company's 35th annual World Petrochemical Conference on Thursday.

However, whether a general recovery will be sustained is questionable, according to some observers. A JP Morgan report warned investors that should sales volume growth begin to slow through 2010, as re-stocking gives way to a “more staggered” demand recovery, better cost control will not provide a major, sequential lift to margins and earnings. There will be few further earnings upgrades to buoy stock prices.

The impact of rising petrochemicals production capacities in the Middle East and Asia is also likely to weigh on the conference.

Asian polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) markets are bracing for a tidal wave of resin supply expected to hit regional markets in the second half of 2010.

About 4.7m tonnes/year of PE and 4m tonnes/year of PP capacities were expected to start-up in 2010 in Asia and the Middle East, according to some industry estimates. Other start-up estimates are higher.

Upcoming Middle Eastern polyethylene terephthalate (PET) capacity will likely lead to more closures among US east coast producers, according to a CMAI consultant.

Regarding propylene, global availability is expected to remain restricted despite some 13m-14m tonne/year of new capacity coming on stream in 2009 and 2010 combined, a consultant said at the DeWitt conference.

The ability of US producers to compete in the new global environment has been the focus of the NPRA.

NPRA president Charles Drevna told ICIS Chemical Business that US oil, natural gas, refining and petrochemical industries could be knocked off the podium in the global competition for growth if the government pushes through certain legislative and regulatory measures.

Drevna warned that the US would be committing “economic suicide” if proposed climate change legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) under the Clean Air Act, higher taxes on the oil and gas industry and the spectre of a Reach-like chemical risk-management programme in the US, as well as plant security measures incorporating inherently safer technology (IST), all came to pass.

“While the capacity to produce major petrochemical products in the United States has stagnated since 2000 and continues to decline, new capacity is rapidly being added in other parts of the world,” Drevna said in a 17 March statement to the US House of Representative’s Committee on Science and Technology.

“In recent years, China has begun to decrease its petrochemical imports from the United States and has expanded its own domestic production of petrochemicals to provide materials for the many consumer goods the country produces,” he said.

Concurrently, Drevna said, countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, have begun to build their own petrochemical plants and have become very competitive in the international market. “As a result, countries such as China that used to import many petrochemical products from the United States have now turned to these geographically closer, lower-cost Middle Eastern markets to supplement their own domestic supply,” he said.

Additional reporting by Peter Taffe, Ben DuBose, Joseph Chang, Ryan Hickman, Prema Viswanathan and Chow Bee Lin

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