It’s fun to be miserable….

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To quote Woody Allen, “More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

It’s refreshing that this was written by an American, given the widely held perception that most of the nation’s citizens lack a sense of irony.

As we enter the New Year, gallows humour seems very appropriate as the bad news multiplies from the cancellation of the K-Dow deal to the possibility of LyondellBasell filing for Chapter 11.

My good friend and colleague Paul Hodges makes the following comment on his blog, Chemicals & the Economy: “Petrochemicals has always been a highly cyclical industry. A typical seven-year cycle involves two years of stunning profitability as demand recovers after a downturn, three years of average returns as supply and demand rebalance and two years of horrendous losses.”

If you take the start of the upswing as 2003 therefore, the Lyondell and Basell merger in December 2007 was a big risk. Perhaps those who negotiated the $20bn deal believed that cyclicality was dead.

What has, of course, made highly leveraged companies very vulnerable in this downturn is the severity of the credit crisis.

The way forward? Bring in the restructuring consultants, cut, cut and make more cuts and focus on making chemicals as cheaply as possible. The difficulty will be balancing this need with retaining sufficient R&D investment to cope with the inevitable increase in environmental legislation.

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