A year ago, the blog was in a minority of one, with its forecast for 2008. Its heading was ‘Budgeting for a Downturn’. By contrast, the consensus post-EPCA was for $70bbl oil, debt market problems to be contained, and for chemical margins to remain at 2007 levels.
This year’s EPCA mood was different. There was an acceptance that a downturn was now underway. The only question was whether this would be short, or lengthy. The blog believes it will be multi-year, on the basis that not only are we entering a global economic downturn, but we are doing this at a time when the oil price is high, and when over-capacity is developing in almost every major product area.
As discussed in my ICIS radio interview, it is also clear that a financial crisis is already well-advanced, even before the economic downturn has really taken hold. What will happen if/when major industrial companies crash over the next few years? Experience from the multi-year recessions of the early 1980′s and 1990′s suggests that this is probably inevitable. We do not know how this will play out, but it is unlikely to be pleasant.
However, experience from previous recessions also shows that ‘self-help’ is a better policy than simply waiting for ‘something to turn up’. The former allows companies to become ‘players’, and to retain some control over their own fate. The latter leads to the development of a ‘victim’ mentality, in which apathy develops and critical issues are left undecided.
It is also important to remember that economic cycles have always been a part of life in the chemical industry. The last 4 years have been amongst the best in our history, and we have enjoyed blue skies. So whilst there are now storm clouds ahead, a 3 – 4 year downturn does not mean that the industry will never recover.
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