NPRA ’11: Mood upbeat but realistic at petrochemicals gathering

26 March 2011 22:16  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ICIS)--The general mood at this year’s 36th annual International Petrochemical Conference (IPC) promises to be more upbeat than 2010, but the industry remains cautiously realistic regarding the rate of economic recovery, a conference official said on Saturday.

Jim Cooper, vice president for petrochemicals at the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), said on the eve of the IPC that at this time last year, it was the “dawn of optimism” as the industry saw glimmers of recovery following the recession and industry downturn of 2008-2009.

The industry last year was still “coming out of a rough couple of years where the industry got beat up pretty badly [with] not a lot of confidence”, he added.

This year, the industry is seeing better economic indicators, Cooper said.

One sign that the industry is doing better is an increase in attendance at the IPC.

As many as 2,900 registered participants are expected to attend this year's IPC, which runs from Sunday through Tuesday. That attendance level would be about 15% higher than the 2010 IPC, according to the NPRA.

However, the outlook for this year is tempered by caution, Cooper said. “I think people are being realistic and don’t expect things are going to rise as rapidly as they did in the past; they are seeing more steady sustained growth.”

The industry is still having a challenge finding credit to fund new ventures, Cooper said, and while some segments of the US housing market (a key downstream destination for many petrochemicals), the housing market in general is still experiencing a slump.

Also, spreading turmoil in the Middle East and the disaster in Japan threaten to impact the petrochemicals business, Cooper said.

The turmoil in the Middle East is fuelled by “a different kind of unrest - it is very emotionally driven. That makes it hard to predict”, Cooper said.

The industry is still weighing the potential impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power crises in Japan, Cooper said, adding he believes the industry there will quickly rebuild.

The NPRA said 25 petrochemicals officials from Japan have cancelled their attendance at the IPC, but 101 were still registered for the conference. Industry representatives from 45 countries attend the three-day IPC programme.

Paul Hodges studies key influencers shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy

By: Brian Ford
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