News in brief

26 April 2013 12:49  [Source: ICB]

AMERICAS

ECOLAB BUYS AKZONOBEL WATER TREATMENT BUSINESS
AkzoNobel Pulp and Performance Chemicals has agreed to sell its Purate water treatment business to US-headquartered Ecolab, the Netherlands-based firm said. The companies have signed an agreement under which Ecolab will begin operating the business following completion of the proposed transaction, which is expected in early June. Financial details were not disclosed.

CROSSTEX PLANS LOUISIANA NGL FRACTIONATION UNIT
US midstream energy services firm Crosstex Energy plans to build a facility at Plaquemine, Louisiana, that will extract ethane and propane from natural gas liquids (NGLs) derived from shale gas, the petrochemicals engineering and technology firm said. Honeywell’s UOP, which won a contract to provide its technology and equipment for Crosstex’s project, said that the plant is scheduled to start up in 2014. Financial terms were not disclosed. UOP will provide Crosstex with de-ethaniser and de-propaniser fractionators capable of handling a 100,000 bbl/day of mixed natural gas liquids stream for the extraction of ethane and propane, which are "highly in demand as petrochemical feedstocks for producing ethylene and propylene", it said.

BAYER COMPLETES BAYTOWN MDI AND TDI MAINTENANCE
Bayer MaterialScience has completed the maintenance turnaround it had been conducting on its methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI) and toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) production units at its site in Baytown, Texas, according to information made available. All units are operational, Bayer said. During the turnaround, the plant conducted inspections and performed maintenance and project work, Bayer said. Bayer started the turnaround for its TDI and MDI production trains at its Baytown facility in late January.

DUPONT TEXAS VAM PLANT TAKING ORDERS - SOURCES
DuPont’s US vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) plant in Texas, which shut down after problems developed following a March turnaround, has restarted, sources said on 22 April. Sources close to the 335,000 tonnes/year plant in LaPorte said it began operating 17 April. The unit has low inventories, but it is taking orders again, sources said.

PRAXAIR TO BUILD CANADA AIR-SEPARATION UNIT
Praxair plans to build an air-separation unit that will supply industrial gas to a refinery planned near Edmonton, Alberta, the US-based producer said. The unit should start operations in 2016, and its capacity will be 2,000 tons/day of oxygen as well associated volumes of nitrogen and argon, Praxair said. Under a long-term agreement, the plant will supply the planned Sturgeon refinery being developed by North West Redwater (NWR) Partnership. NWR’s gasification process will consume oxygen to produce hydrogen, which will then be used to upgrade bitumen extracted from oil sands, Praxair said.

MITSUBISHI CHEM BUYS COMTREX PVC COMPOUNDER
Japanese chemical producer Mitsubishi Chemical has acquired all the assets of the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) compounding business of US-based Comtrex, the company said in a statement. Financial details were not disclosed. The acquisition is in line with Mitsubishi Chemical’s medium-term management plan to expand manufacturing and sales of PVC compounds and thermoplastic elastomers for the automotive sector in North America, and strengthen the operating base of its performance polymer business, the company said.

BRAZIL UNVEILS STIMULUS PLAN FOR ETHANOL SECTOR
Brazil, the world’s biggest ethanol exporter, unveiled a stimulus package for ethanol producers in a move to boost production and investment in the sector. The stimulus package, announced by Finance Minister Guido Mantega, will include credit lines specifically set aside for the sector, interest rate reductions and a reduction of the tax burden on producers. The main objective of the package is to encourage producers to invest more in biofuel production by increasing the supply of the product to lower the price of fuel at the pumps.

BRAZIL ANTITRUST COUNCIL OPPOSES OXITENO DEAL
The chief of Brazil’s Administrative Council for Economic Defence (CADE) has recommended blocking Brazilian chemical firm Oxiteno’s acquisition of the Uruguay’s largest chemical firm, American Chemical, sources in the market said. The General Superintendence’s opinion stated that the acquisition would harm competition in the sodium laureth sulphate market, a chemical substance applied in cleaning and personal care products such as detergents, shampoos and liquid soap. Both companies produce and sell the product in the countries that are part of Mercosul, the Southern Common Market.

CHINA APPROVES SALE OF GAVILON TO MARUBENI CORP
Chinese authorities announced they have finally agreed to give regulatory approval for Japanese trading firm Marubeni Corporation to proceed with the $5.6bn (€4.3bn) acquisition of Omaha, Nebraska-based grain, fertilizer and energy commodities trader Gavilon. The Chinese government was allowed to have approval in the merger because the new combination is expected to eventually import an estimated 20% of the grain products coming into their country.

EUROPE

NORWAY’S YARA Q1 NET PROFIT FALLS BY 25%
Norway-based fertilizer and ammonia specialist Yara International reported that its first-quarter net income fell by 25% year on year to Norwegian kroner (NKr) 2.26bn ($389m), partly on foreign exchange losses. The company’s revenue fell by 1.11% year on year to NKr20.6bn in January-March this year, while its operating income was down by 13.1% at NKr2.68bn.

ERCROS DECLARES FM ON CAUSTIC SODA PEARLS UNIT
Spanish producer Ercros has declared force majeure on its caustic soda pearls production plant, a company source said. The company hopes to resume by the first week of May, the source added. It was not clear when force majeure had been declared or why it was necessary.

RESTRUCTURING PAYS OFF FOR POLAND'S CIECH
The value in the widened restructuring strategy being pursued by Poland’s Ciech is starting to show through in the group’s financial figures. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, adjusted with the deduction of one-off items, rose 29% year on year to zloty (Zl) 423m ($134.7m, €102.7m) in 2012 from Zl 327m in 2011, Ciech said.

BASF TO CUT 500 JOBS IN PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS
Germany-based chemicals company BASF is to cut 500 jobs through restructuring of its performance products operations. The restructuring measures are aimed at improving the efficiency of BASF’s plastic additives and pigments and resins businesses, leading to 350 jobs being cut in Basel, and an additional 150 positions to disappear elsewhere, primarily in Europe.

EUROZONE DOWNTURN TO WORSEN - MARKIT
The Markit Flash Eurozone Purchasing Managers’ Composite Output Index (PMI) remained at 46.5 in April, indicating that the economic downturn in the eurozone area is likely to worsen in coming months, financial information group Markit Economics said.

KEMIRA Q1 NET PROFIT DOWN 91% ON DIVESTMENT
Finnish chemicals company Kemira’s net profit for the first quarter fell by 91% compared to the same period in 2012, to €2.8m, as a result of a €23m writedown from the sale of its stake in loss-making titanium oxide (Ti02) producer Sachtleben. Revenues were up 3% year on year to €560.9m and earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) was up 9% to €42.2m.

FINLAND’S KEMIRA SET TO CLOSE VAASA UNIT, CUT JOBS
Finland-based Kemira will close its production facility in Vaasa, as part of plans to consolidate its paper chemicals production into larger production units. The measures may lead to the reduction of 60 positions. Kemira also announced a plan to establish a multifunction business service centre in Poland, which could impact up to an additional 210 current positions in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region.

VOPAK TO EXPAND PORT OF VLISSINGEN TERMINAL
Netherlands-based Vopak will expand its terminal in the port of Vlissingen with an additional 36,800 cubic metres (cbm), the liquid bulk tank storage service provider said. It said there is a growing interest and market commitment for additional pressurised storage capacity at its terminal in Vlissingen, which has a current storage capacity of 131,400 cbm. The additional storage capacity is expected to be commissioned in the fourth quarter of 2014.

SWISS NOVARTIS Q1 NET PROFIT UP 6.7% AT $2.4BN
Novartis has posted a 6.7% year-on-year increase in its Q1 net profit to $2.42bn (€1.86bn) due to its expansion in its growth products, the Swiss pharmaceuticals major said. The company’s Q1 sales was up by 2.0% year on year to $14.0bn, Novartis said in a statement. Its operating income rose by 5.8% year on year to $2.90bn, it said. "Novartis delivered a solid quarter, with all divisions contributing to growth," said Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis.

TRELLEBORG Q1 OPERATING PROFIT FALLS TO SKR712M
Trelleborg’s group operating profit for the first quarter of 2013 fell to Swedish kronor (SKr) 712m ($107m, €82m), from SKr744m in the same period last year, because of weaker market conditions, the Swedish sealants group said. Consolidated net sales for the first quarter declined by 31% year on year to SEK5.39bn. Looking ahead, Trelleborg said demand is expected to be on a par with the first quarter of 2013, adjusted for seasonal variations.

BUSINESS CONFIDENCE IN GERMANY FALLS AGAIN
Germany’s business confidence declined for a second month in a row in April as companies have become more cautious about their prospects, an economics research group said. Munich-based Ifo said that its monthly business climate index for Germany fell to 104.4 in April, from 106.7 in March. The index is based on a survey of some 7,000 companies. Ifo said that while the majority of companies assessed their current business situation as "good", they were far more cautious than last month.

ASIA

CHINA’S PE, PP DEMAND SET TO GROW FASTER IN 2013
China’s polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) demand growth in 2013 is expected to be higher than last year, driven by an improving local economy, a senior analyst for the Sinopec Economics and Development Research Institute said. PE and PP demand is forecast to grow at 4.8% and 6% respectively, on a year-on-year basis, said Shu Zhaoxia, deputy chief engineer of the Sinopec Economics and Development Research Institute.

ASAHI KASEI GRANTS PMMA TECH LICENCE TO THAI PTT
Asahi Kasei Chemicals has granted a manufacturing technology licence for the production of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) to Thailand’s PTT, the Japanese producer said. The two companies have equal stakes of 48.5% each in Thailand-based PTT Asahi Chemical Co (PTTAC), which produces acrylonitrile (ACN) and methyl methacrylate (MMA), that began full-scale commercial operations in January this year, Asahi Kasei said in a statement.

ASIA TO SHIP 17,000 TONNES TOLUENE TO US IN APRIL
Asia will be shipping out an estimated 17,000 tonnes of toluene to the US in April, the bulk of which are volumes under contracts, market players said. Some 12,000 tonnes will originate in Japan, while 5,000 tonnes will be delivered from South Korea, they said. Spot material flowing to the US is limited given a negligible price spread in the Asian and the US toluene markets.

TAIWAN’S TSRC RESUMES PRODUCTION AT SBR PLANT
Taiwan Synthetic Rubber Corp (TSRC) resumed production at its 100,000 tonne/year styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) plant at Kaohsiung in Taiwan on 22 April after completing its scheduled maintenance, a company source said. The plant was shut in early April for 20 days to conduct maintenance, the source said. Several SBR producers have either reduced their plant operating rates or shut down their plants for maintenance because of poor market conditions, industry sources said.

XIANGLU PETCHEM TO START PTA TRIAL RUNS IN Q3 ‘13
China’s Xianglu Petrochemical plans to start trial runs at its new 4.5m tonne/year purified terephthalic acid (PTA) at Zhangzhou in Fujian province in the third quarter of this year, a source familiar with the matter said. The company plans to gradually conduct trial runs at the PTA unit in August through a step-by-step method, the source added. The new PTA unit is connected via a pipeline to Dragon Aromatics’ new paraxylene (PX)/orthoxylene (OX) unit in Fujian, the source said.

DRAGON AROMATICS TO START PX/OX TRIAL RUNS
China’s Dragon Aromatics started warming up its new paraxylene (PX)/orthoxylene (OX) unit in Fujian province on 23 April in preparation for its trial runs in the following week, a company source said. Trial runs were expected to commence in the week of 29 April, when the company starts feeding feedstock, mixed xylenes (MX), into the unit’s first 800,000 tonne/year PX line, the source added. The new unit has a nameplate capacity of 1.6m tonnes/year of PX and 240,000 tonnes/year of OX.

GERMAN WACKER OPENS VAE DISPERSIONS IN CHINA
Wacker Chemie has launched its new 60,000 tonne/year vinyl acetate ethylene (VAE) copolymer dispersion reactor line at the firm’s production site in Nanjing, China, the German specialty chemicals maker said. The plant doubles the site’s VAE dispersion capacity to 120,000 tonnes/year, making it the largest of its kind in China, the company said in a statement. "The dispersion-plant expansion is Wacker’s response to the rising demand for high-quality VAE dispersions, especially in China and southeast Asia’s emerging markets," it said.

AKZONOBEL PLANS CHINA ETHANOLAMINES RESTART
AkzoNobel will restart its 80,000 tonne/year ethanolamines plant at Ningbo in Zhejiang, China, at the end of April, industry sources said. The ethanolamines plant was shut in early April for a scheduled turnaround, sources said. This shutdown has little impact on the supply of ethanolamines as the producer has stocked up on its inventory prior to the shutdown, traders said.

S KOREA’S KUMHO P&B MAY CUT MIBK OUTPUT FURTHER
South Korea’s Kumho P&B Chemicals may reduce its methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) output further if export demand remains weak and the price downtrend continues, a company source said. The producer has been capping the operating rate at its 55,000 tonne/year MIBK plant in Yeosu at 85-90% of capacity since 1 April because of poor market conditions.


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