INSIGHT: Styrolution looks to specialties as it cuts Europe styrenics

20 March 2012 16:23  [Source: ICIS news]

By Nigel Davis

LONDON (ICIS)--Styrolution is unlikely to rationalise commodity styrenics production further over the next two years but will focus on specialties and co-product growth, CEO Roberto Gualdoni said this week.

The world’s largest styrenics producer will rationalise 350,000 tonnes/year of styrene monomer capacity and 180,000 tonnes/year of polystyrene (PS) capacity at Marl in Germany, it indicated on Monday.

INEOS, the operator of the units – Styrolution is a venture that combines styrenics activities formerly owned by Germany’s BASF and Switzerland-headquartered INEOS – confirmed that the units would close at the end of 2012. INEOS will retain expandable polystyrene (EPS) and cumene production at the site.

Gualdoni says that Styrolution can serve the European market from more efficient plants elsewhere in Europe and does not need to take product from the plants due to close. The capacity reductions look large from a European perspective but much less so on a global scale. Currently, the company has 3.3m tonnes/year of SM capacity and 2.3m tonnes/year of PS capacity.

Styrolution’s strategic priorities were set early on – the company was established in October 2011 and described by Gualdoni as cost leadership in commodities and growth in specialities, particularly in emerging markets. Having run the former BASF and INEOS businesses 24/7 for the past few months it had become clear where commodity cost savings could be made.

Alongside the commodities rationalisation in Europe, Styrolution plans to add acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) specialties production capacity at Vadodara in India and acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) specialties capacities in Germany and South Korea.

Styrolution serves fast-growing markets in China from its plants in South Korea. It currently produces ASA co-polymers in Germany and in Mexico so with the new units will be able to provide customers globally with the same products. It claims it will be the only company capable of doing so.

In India, where Gualdoni says Styrolution is the number one styrenics producer, demand for ABS specialties is growing fast. One application is in the two-wheeled vehicles that are so prevalent in the country, another is in home appliances. “We are going with such speed that our capacities can’t match demand,” Gualdoni says. “This is not the last time you will hear about us in India.”

Currently, however, Gualdoni admits that growth rates in Asia are “turbulent”. India is beset by inflation. He describes China as being “pretty intransparent” but hopes for better forward visibility by the end of March or the beginning of April. “We are preparing for anything that’s needed,” he adds.

The company releases this week or early next week its first set of financial results for 2011. In the first quarter of this year, Gualdoni says that North American business has been “very positive” and supported by the company’s own business development efforts. European markets are described as “soft” but at a “quite interesting level”.

Over time, market growth for Styrolution is very much capacity-oriented but also demands close work with own equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in local markets.

Styrolution’s growth will be based on its (product-related) competitive advantages, Gualdoni says, and its presence in emerging markets. Generally speaking, "the specialties area is one where the market is growing more constantly than PS or ABS".

Styrolution is developing as a company much better than Gualdoni expected and, he says, moving fast. Close to 92 individual projects were identified at a three-day strategy workshop in October last year. It is implementing those projects, however, that is going to be the greatest challenge.

“We are extremely committed to moving forward at all levels,” the Styrolution CEO says. The company has to keep working on costs but does not see the need for further rationalisation of commodity capacity right away. If the company keeps performing well “you will see us growing”, he says.

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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