Europe’s supply-led ethylene market continues

C2 OR% May11.pngQ1 saw near record margins for European petchem producers. And there was also a scramble for product, as buyers rushed to secure product ahead of feedstock price-related increases.

But this remained a supply-led market. As the chart above shows, based on APPE data, Q1 production (red triangle) was just 5.1 million tonnes. It was slightly above 2010 levels (dark red line), and the dreadful Q1 2009 figure (blue). But it was 7% below the average Q1 volume of 5.5MT between 2003-7.

The reason, of course, continued to be the lack of demand for refinery output. This meant feedstock supply was lower and cracker operating rates (OR%) remained low at 82%. And so the surge of demand did not lead to any increase in production.

But is this situation stable? The blog thinks not. It is the difference between real and perceived demand:

Real demand is when the consumer feels confident, and has discretionary income to spend on products that contain chemicals
Perceived demand is when buyers rush to beat price rises, whilst consumers suffer a loss of discretionary income as oil prices rise

The blog was speaking at the World Refining Association’s global petrochemical conference last week, and raised this issue during the Q&A. Worryingly, it still does not seem to be widely understood. And yet it means we risk a repeat of the Q4 2008 downturn.

Real demand seems unlikely to increase in the next few months, as austerity programmes start to bite, and the summer holiday season approaches. Thus considerable destocking may well lie ahead, all down the value chain, before current inventories rebalance with real demand.

About Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is Chairman of International eChem, trusted commercial advisers to the global chemical industry. The aim of this blog is to share ideas about the influences that may shape the chemical industry over the next 12 – 18 months. It will try to look behind today’s headlines, to understand what may happen next in important issues such oil prices, economic growth and the environment. We may also have some fun, investigating a few of the more offbeat events that take place from time to time. Please do join me and share your thoughts. Between us, we will hopefully develop useful insights into the key factors that will drive the industry's future performance.

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