Polyolefins And Football: An Historic Parallel?



Is history about to repeat itself?

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Source of picture: www.vietbao.vn

The last year for polyolefins has been a bit like the wonderful 1980s and early 1990s for genuine football fans – when the often-repeated phrase of Manchester Utd supporters was “next year, definitely” when they were talking about their prospects for winning the then First Division Championship (just replace “next year with “next month”).

Sadly, of course, the rest is bitter and painful history when it comes to “Utd”.

The question now, after a year of constant project delays and problems with output from existing production, is whether the same will soon apply to polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) as oversupply crashes the market in 2010.

No matter what the demand outlook – and we’ll look at demand later this week – the on-paper increases are just too big to prevent major market disruptions.

“Practically every month this year we’ve seen buyers retreating from the market expecting a flood of supply that simply hasn’t happened,” said a Shanghai-based source with a leading Asian polyolefin producer.

The most recent example was the steep fall in pricing just before the October holidays – by some estimates as much as $200/tonne – on false anticipation of stabilised production at PetroRabigh in the Middle East and at the Fujian and Dushanzi complexes in China.

After the October break prices bounced back.

But surely some time in the New Year all three of these new plants, which have been hit by technical problems, will reach 100% or thereabouts (whatever rates the market – or perhaps in the case of the Middle East unbeatable economics and in the case of China government policy – determines).

China is due to increase its high-density polyethylene (HDPE) capacity by 45% next year, linear-low density PE (LLDPE) by 35% (there are no new low-density PE plants) and PP by more than 30%, according to CBI China.

How quickly these further new volumes are introduced into the market will again, though, depend on the extent of technical problems that have plagued the start-up of ever-bigger and more complex plants. The shortage of experienced engineers has made the process more problematic.

A key measure will be Sinopec inventory levels as it contends with this potential flood of new supply.

So far this year it has apparently controlled inventories exceptionally well after the painful experience of late 2008.

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