October is usually a seasonally strong month for chemical production. Factories are back from the summer holidays, and working flat out to meet orders before the Christmas and Lunar New Year breaks. So it is a bit disappointing that, as the above chart from the American Chemistry Council shows, operating rates (OR%) actually slipped slightly to 85%.
Of course, this is still a lot better than the 81.9% seen in 2009. But for the moment, it suggests that we are still in a Base Case Scenario as far as OR% are concerned. Yet crude oil prices have raced higher, to ~$90/bbl, putting them clearly in an Upside Case Scenario and suggesting demand is improving.
This highlights the importance of the comment made last week by Syngenta’s Pierpaolo Ferluga, when he noted that “the main concern at the moment is about a tight chemical market and high commodity prices“. He also added two very relevant questions – “if this is due mainly to China, or if this is going to end in 2011 into a new crisis“?
Supply constraints (OPEC quotas and plant force majeures), plus the impact of China’s lending/stimulus programmes, have clearly been key features of 2010. What happens next to chemical OR% will therefore probably tell us a lot about whether the perception of recovery that these have provided, will translate into sustainable reality.