News in brief

14 February 2014 10:00  [Source: ICB]

Europe

Versalis suspendS olefins/aromatics output
Versalis is to suspend production of olefins and aromatics at its Porto Marghera, northern Italy site after reaching an agreement with trade unions to undertake a €200m overhaul at the facilities in a bid to regain competitiveness, the Italy-based petrochemicals producer said. It did not clarify when the shutdown will take place. It is halting production for six months because of the market downturn, as well as to optimise the material balance at its industrial system.

Europe LBI calls FM on PP from Carrington
LyondellBasell has declared force majeure on deliveries of polypropylene (PP) from its 210,000 tonne/year Carrington site in the UK, buyers said. “We got a letter this morning informing us of FM,” said a buyer. LyondellBasell does not comment on the status of its operations, but buyers received a letter on 12 February informing them of legal restrictions on full PP volumes because of a lack of propylene.

Dow polyols plant back to normal
Dow Chemical’s flexible polyols plant in Terneuzen, the Netherlands, which was operating a reduced rate due to mechanical failure, is now running normally, a company source confirmed. “It was already running at a reduced rate since [the middle of January] but got back to normal [operating] rate as of last weekend,” a company source said. “Our stock level is still low.” The company confirmed the mechanical failure in the middle of January but the reduced capacity had limited impact on the market overall.

Global OE, replacement tyre demand grew in 2013
Michelin’s global sales of passenger car and light truck tyres in 2013 increased by 3% year over year in both the original equipment (OE) sector and the replacement tyre market, the France-based manufacturer said. In Europe, OE tyre demand edged up by 1%, with an improvement in the second half, in line with the overall increase in vehicle output, the company said. Replacement tyre demand in Europe remained flat.

German gov predicts GDP increases in 2014
Germany’s economy should expand by 1.8% in 2014 and 2.0% in 2015, despite challenges from the country’s energy transition to renewables, according to a government forecast. The figures compare to 0.4% GDP growth in 2013 and 0.7% growth in 2012. Meanwhile, Germany’s chemical production is forecast to increase 2.0% in 2014.

EU, Eurozone chemical output in Dec up 0.8%
Chemical production in both the EU and the eurozone increased by 0.8% in December 2013, ahead of general industrial production for both areas, said European statistics agency Eurostat. The chemical sector in both the EU and the eurozone is showing signs of recovery after chemical output grew in November by 0.6% in the EU and 0.7% in the eurozone. Total industrial production (excluding construction) decreased by 0.7% both in the EU and the eurozone in December 2013 compared to November 2013.

Total Q4 refining, chems profit down 13%
France’s Total reported Q4 operating profit at its refining and chemicals segment of €321m, down 13% year on year on the back of a “significant deterioration” of European refining margins. The slump in refining margins in Europe was partially offset by a more favourable environment for petrochemicals, the company said, although it could not make up for a net gain in operating profit.

Johnson Matthey appoints new finance director
Johnson Matthey has appointed Dan Jones, formerly of natural gas specialist BG Group, as its new group finance director, the UK-headquartered chemicals firm said. Jones is to join Johnson Matthey’s board and take up his new role on 5 June this year, replacing Robert MacLeod who is to become group CEO on the same day. MacLeod is succeeding Neil Carson, who had served as Johnson Matthey CEO since 2004.

Linde to deliver two hydrogen plants to Russia
Linde has secured a €120m engineering and procurement contract to build two hydrogen plants for Russian refiner PSC TAIF-NK, the German firm said. “The two new hydrogen plants, each with a capacity of around 110,000 normal cubic metres per hour (Nm3/h), will supply high purity hydrogen to the heavy residue conversion complex at the Nizhnekamsk refinery site [in Russia],” Linde said in a statement. The new hydrogen plants are expected to be delivered by end-2015.


Americas

Axiall partners with Lotte for cracker
US-based Axiall and South-Korea-based Lotte Chemical have signed a non-binding preliminary agreement to pursue a 50:50 joint venture to develop a 1m tonne/year ethane cracker in Louisiana. The companies expect to award a front-end engineering design (FEED) contract in the first quarter of this year. In addition, Lotte would begin a FEED study for a wholly owned monoethylene glycol (MEG) plant that would be adjacent to the cracker. Both projects could begin operations in 2018 if they are approved by the companies’ boards.

US Huntsman to take down ethylene plant
Huntsman is taking down its ethane cracker in Port Neches, Texas, which should cost the company $8m-9m in the first quarter, the CEO said on Tuesday. Peter Huntsman did not say how long the cracker would be down. The plant has an ethylene capacity of 193,000 tonne/year, according to ICIS plants and projects. Huntsman did not explain why the company is taking down the plant. Earlier in 2013, the company announced plans to increase the cracker’s capacity by about 10%.

Huntsman to take down US cracker
Huntsman is taking down its ethane cracker in Port Neches, Texas, which should cost the company $8m-9m in the first quarter, CEO Peter Huntsman said. He did not say why the company is taking down the plant or how long the cracker would be down. The plant has an ethylene capacity of 193,000 tonnes/year, according to ICIS plants and projects. Earlier in 2013, the company announced plans to increase the cracker’s capacity by about 10%.

Dow rebuffs Loeb’s spin-off request
US-based Dow Chemical has rebuffed an activist investor’s request that the company spin off its petrochemical business, saying the company is better off as is, according to a regulatory filing. Earlier this year, Daniel Loeb, the CEO of Third Point, announced that the firm had taken a $1.3bn stake in Dow. Loeb urged the company to spin off its petrochemical business, arguing that the move would benefit the new company as well as the specialty-focused parent. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Dow said that its board and executive management team had evaluated the company with outside advisors.

Third Point asks to see data from Dow
Investment firm Third Point offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement to review the analysis that led US-based Dow Chemical to rebuff the firm’s request to spin-off its petrochemical business. “Dow has asked shareholders to accept its word that Third Point’s proposal to split the petro and specialty chemical businesses would not increase value. Unfortunately, Dow’s lack of transparency means we know neither the methodology nor even the advisors used to arrive at its decision,” Third Point said in a statement. “Transparency is essential considering Dow’s undistinguished track record of capital allocation decisions. Earlier this year, Daniel Loeb, CEO of Third Point, announced that the firm had taken a $1.3bn stake in Dow. Third Point said it looked forward “to having a constructive dialogue among our own financial advisors, CEO Andrew Liveris, and Dow’s board, which we believe can ultimately result in significant value for all shareholders”.

US production growth to lead rise in global crude
Global production of crude oil should increase by 1.7m bbl/day in 2014 and 1.4m bbl/day in 2015, with the US leading the way in the rise, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). In its Short-Term Energy Outlook, the EIA forecasted that countries outside of OPEC will increase their output by 1.9m bbl/day in 2014, with the US accounting for more than half of that jump. Meanwhile, OPEC is expected to decrease output by 200,000 bbl/day this year and 100,000 bbl/day in 2015 in part to compensate for the increase in non-OPEC production.

US ethylene cycle strong despite ethane spike
The US is in the middle part of the best ethylene cycle in its history, even with the recent spike in feedstock ethane, said Deutsche Bank analyst David Begleiter. The investment firm remains bullish on a US ethylene cycle and the companies that are maximising plentiful natural gas feedstock before most planned new capacity for ethylene comes on line by 2018, he said. The analyst pointed to the host of US chemical, fertilizer and energy projects announced to take advantage of the shale gas revolution as the impetus for “likely” construction delays through 2020. “This should enable an extended period of strong US ethylene chain profitability” through 2018, Begleiter said.

Phillips 66 moves forward with NGL projects
US-based Phillips 66’s board of directors has decided to move forward with two major natural gas liquids (NGLs) projects in Texas representing more than $3bn in investment. The board approved building a 100,000 bbl/day NGL fractionator in Old Ocean, located southwest of Houston near the US producer’s Sweeny Refinery. The new facility will use Y-grade mixed NGLs from nearby pipelines to produce purity NGLs for the petrochemical and heating industries. The fractionator is expected to start up in Q3 2015.

Plastipak to pay $102m for Constar assets
US-based Plastipak Packaging said that it has won a bankcruptcy auction for certain US assets of insolvent Constar International, for which it is to pay $102.45m. The Plymouth, Michigan-based buyer manufactures rigid plastic packaging has acquired certain assets from Philadelphia-based food and non-food packaging manufacturer Constar as a way to merge operations in order to improve its services.


Asia

China’s Shenhua to shut PE, PP units in July
China’s Shenhua Baotou Coal Chemical plans to shut its 300,000 tonne/year linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE)/high density polyethylene (HDPE) swing unit and its 300,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) unit in Inner Mongolia for maintenance in July, a market source said. The shutdown is expected to last for a month.

Jiangsu Sanmu runs epoxy resins plant at 70%
China’s Jiangsu Sanmu Group is currently running its newly restarted 200,000 tonne/year epoxy resins plant in Yixing at 70% of capacity, a company source said. The plant resumed production on 7 February after undergoing 10 days of regular maintenance, the source said. Prior to the turnaround, the plant was operating at the same capacity, the source said.

Wuxi Baichuan runs two plants at 100% capacity
Chinese producer Wuxi Baichuan Chemical Industrial is running its two ethyl acetate (etac)/butyl acetate (butac) swing plants in Jiangsu province at 100% capacity, after restarting them on 10 February from scheduled turnarounds, a company source said. The producer shut its 300,000 tonne/year etac/butac swing plant at Nantong, as well as its 200,000 tonne/year etac/butac swing plant at Jiangyin, from 25 January until 10 February to carry out regular maintenance.

Shanghai Dragon Sky restarts butac plant
Chinese producer Shanghai Dragon Sky Chemical has restarted its 50,000 tonne/year butyl acetate (butac) plant in Shanghai on 11 February after a scheduled turnaround, a company source.The producer shut the plant on 16 January to carry out regular maintenance, the source said. Other major butac makers in China include Shandong Jinyimeng, Jiangmen Handsome Chemical Development, Wuxi Baichuan and Shandong Yankuang.

Japan’s Mitsubishi Chem to shut phenol, BPA units
Mitsubishi Chemical plans to shut its phenol/acetone and bisphenol-A (BPA) units in May for annual maintenance, a company source said. It plans to shut its phenol/acetone plant in Kashima that can produce 250,000 tonnes/year of phenol and 150,000 tonnes/year of acetone, for around six weeks from early May. It will also shut its 100,000 tonne/year BPA unit at the site for turnaround over the same period.

China’s Sinochem to start up new benzene unit
China’s Sinochem is planning to start-up its new benzene plant at Quanzhou in Fujian province, Fujian, by the end of March, a company source said. The new benzene unit has a nameplate capacity of 120,000 tonnes/year, the source said. The company’s upstream 12m tonne/year crude distillation unit (CDU) of its 240,000 bbl/day refinery has begun trial run on 16 January at the same site.

S Korea’s Samsung Total starts EVA/LDPE plant
South Korea’s Samsung Total is in the process of starting up its new 240,000 tonne/year ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/low density polyethylene (LDPE) tubular plant in Daesan, a company official said. The plant will be able to produce polymer pellets later in the day, he said. The unit will mainly churn out LDPE in the beginning stage of production, and will only start making EVA in mid-March once plant operations stabilise, the official said.

India Oil Corp’s PP project to start up in 2017
Indian Oil Corp (IOC) plans to start up its delayed polypropylene (PP) project at Paradip in 2017, a senior company official said. The PP plant is linked to the company’s 15m tonnes/year refinery at the same site, which is due to start operations this year. The refinery had originally been conceived together with the downstream petrochemicals but financial constraints had forced the company to prioritise construction of the refinery.

Mitsui Chemicals runs melamine plant at 100%
Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals is running its 40,000 tonne/year melamine plant at Osaka at around 100% after restart in end January, a company source said.“The plant is running at around full capacity after it was restarted at the end of last month,” the source said. The melamine plant was shut down for a turnaround in end September, 2013, according to an earlier story in ICIS.


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