Changing expectations

By Malini Hariharan

A turnaround in petrochemical fortunes in the US, as a result of falling gas prices, means that Dow Chemical is willing to wait to get the best value for its basic chemicals business.

At an earnings call last week, the company’s ceo, Andrew Liveris, was clear that while Dow was committed to its asset light strategy it was also in no rush to form a joint venture.

“The fact that this business is earning this much money has made the business more valuable and we are definitely taking our time in structuring the right deal.

“Even though these are trough like conditions, the business is earning four to five times what is earned in the ’01 and ’02 trough, which is a spectacular statement,” he said.

Dow’s basic plastics unit reported $718m in first-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). That was up substantially from $122m reported for the same time last year.

Dow was now intent on making the most money from a basic plastics joint venture, Liveris said.

Liveris was also optimistic that the rise in shale gas production would allow US petrochemical producers to retain their competitive position in the future.

“If you go into the next several years and you take the shale gas production that will come online in this country, then that in our view is a sustainable advantage for some years. The consequence of that is that US natural gas will start to stabilise, be less volatile as will indeed natural gas liquids (NGL),”

Another advantage was the flexibility of US crackers to take a variety of feedstocks.

“Ours is the most flexible in the industry. It has made the business and the assets more valuable for the foreseeable future,” he added.

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