By Malini Hariharan (Malini is now joint blogger for Asian Chemical Connections)
Japanese chemical majors have raised their sales and profit forecasts for the second half of the fiscal year ending 31 March 2010, but the revisions are marginal and companies are still holding a conservative outlook.
Earnings in the first half of this fiscal year have been better than expected but the stock market is not impressed. It appears investors are being guided by the cloudy outlook for H2.
A Tokyo-based analyst highlighted three major risks that Japanese companies foresee:
• Inventory adjustments in China for petrochemicals and globally in the auto and LCD sectors
• A rise in naphtha prices led by higher crude oil prices
• Rising availability of product from new petrochemical capacities in the Middle East.
Mitsui Chemicals has forecast sales of Yen1,210bn as compared to Yen1,487.6bn in 2008-09. Operating loss is expected to narrow to Yen15bn from Yen 45.5bn last year.
Sumitomo Chemical expects to post petrochemical sales of Yen500bn in 2009-10, down 9.6% from the previous year. Total sales are projected at Yen1,620bn, down 9.4%.
At an analyst meeting yesterday Sumitomo Chemical disclosed that operating rates at its joint-venture PetroRabigh complex in Saudi Arabia are still quite low, especially for polyethylene (PE). Although the situation is improving the company expects full operations only at the end of this year.
Japanese companies are continuing their efforts to widen their footprint in China. Mitsui Chemicals and Sinopec have agreed to proceed with a joint venture for production of phenol and ethylene, propylene diene terpolymer (EPT). At a recent analyst meet, Mitsui's ceo disclosed that the project would be a 50:50 joint venture. Asked if the jv would be expanded to include ethylene and propylene production, the ceo said there was no immediate plan but there was some potential.
Mitsui's ceo is also reported to have said that the company was interested in acquisitions in agro-chemicals or speciality chemicals. Among the Japanese majors, Mitsui is most exposed to commodity chemicals and is under greater pressure to diversify if product portfolio.