By John Richardson
Word for word, see below what an Asian polyolefins trader told us yesterday:
“This year has been absolutely terrible, the worst I can remember in eight years in this business, and even worse than 2008. There is just no demand out there.
“There was supposed to be a recovery after the Chinese New Year, everybody seemed to be banking on that, including us, but it just didn’t happen and isn’t going to happen, I don’t think.
“Any activity that’s taking place at the moment is almost entirely between the traders – the end-users in China are just not interested.
“What’s worrying is that the negative mood has started to spread from China to Vietnam and Indonesia, which have been better markets so far during 2012. End-users in Vietnam and Indonesia have started to pull back from orders.
“There are a lot of re-exports of polyethylene (PE) from bonded warehouses in China because of the weak demand, which is reflected in the wide gap between import and domestic prices – around $150 a tonne. The re-exports are mainly heading to Indonesia and Vietnam. This is one of the reasons why sentiment there is weakening.
“A lot of re-exported polypropylene (PP) from China is heading to India and South America.
“I think the reasons for end-users in China remaining so cautious include rising labour costs, the lack of availability of labour and credit.
“I heard about bank lending being increased in March by more than the banking analysts had expected, but we are not seeing any evidence of that among our customers. They remain short of credit. I think this is probably because most of our customers are small and medium-sized enterprises and most of the extra lending has gone to the big companies.
“Uncertainty in general is still dominating the mood, whether it’s over economic reforms and politics in China, politics in Europe and the US, the Eurozone debt crisis and US economic growth.
“Labour costs have gone up hugely over the past six years. It used to be you could employ a worker in a packaging plant, a low-skilled manual worker, for Rmb800-1,000 a month. Now it costs Rmb3,300.
“What is strange is that there is a real shortage of unskilled workers, but a greater availability of skilled workers – and with a skilled worker, when you take into account greater productivity, you get better value for money.
“I have noticed a change in attitude among the 1990s babies compared with their parents. They expect wages to increase every year, they expect better living and working conditions, and they expect not to have to work as hard.
“Another thing I am noticing among my customers is greater automation, as manual workers are harder to find and a lot more expensive. They would rather invest in machinery than in people.”