Chem engineers back with avengeance

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At the moment, a shell-shocked chemicals industry is still recovering from the impact of destocking following the huge inventory write downs in Q4.

The next step will be to measure the state of genuine, end-user demand and how this compares with the fantastic growth we saw in 2003 right through until the end of H1 2008.

Comparisons will inevitably look bad, even if, as some hope, recovery arrives in the second half of this year. This is bound to have a pyschologically dampening effect on markets.

Plus, chemicals and plastics markets are about to be roiled by large amounts of new capacity.

Recent price rises in the aromatics and olefins chains might, therefore, be reversed.

And so cost will remain King in the second of 2009, and perhaps for several more years.

The rise of private equity in chemicals, which I examined in a previous post, resulted in claims that the sector’s more efficient management techniques would result in money being made “even at the bottom of the cycle”.

But key to survival may no be longer innovative financial engineering and cutting costs social and bureaucracy costs incurred by previously much bigger, listed companies.

It might instead be all about chemical engineers getting every last cent of value out of production processes through optimising “every pipe and every valve,” says my colleague Nigel Davis – editor of the Insight section of ICIS news.

It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out – and what becomes of chief financial officers.

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