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Chemical companies highlight increased uncertainty and volatility in Q1 results

Volatility creates uncertainty.  And uncertainty can easily lead to paralysis, if a company hasn’t planned ahead for the range of potential scenarios that might develop.  This is the risk highlighted in my usual analysis of quarterly results. A key warning sign is the divide that has developed recently in performance in different regions and industry sectors, […]

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PE exporters face problems as China slows, global capacity expands

China no longer wants to be the ‘manufacturing capital of the world’.  Its ‘New Normal’ policies are instead taking it in a new direction, where growth will be based on income levels, not property wealth effects.  So this seems a good moment to step back, and focus on the changes this is likely to bring. […]

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Lower oil prices support European cracker operating rates

Who would have believed, a few years ago, that European cracker operators would see an operating rate of 84% as something to celebrate?  It would have been thought a disaster prior to 2008, when rates typically ranged around 90%. But whilst nobody is flying flags, last year was the best year since 2007.  And as […]

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China’s PE imports tumble as market slows, local output rises

The above chart is a major wake-up call for anyone who still believes that China will continue to import ever-increasing volumes of major commodities such as polyethylene (PE).  It suggests demand and import growth are now at much lower levels than in the past, and may even have begun to peak. The chart shows cumulative volumes in […]

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Sinopec Mar15

Sinopec confirms move into China’s New Normal economy

Sinopec, China’s largest chemical company, has just published its operating results for 2014.  We don’t yet have all the details, but the chart above highlights the key points of its cumulative performance since it first filed public accounts in 1998: It has invested Rmb 288bn ($41bn) in capital expenditure for refining, and Rmb 239bn ($33bn) for chemicals (blue columns) […]

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Market volatility highlights dangers for Q2

Today’s market conditions are some of the most dangerous that I can ever remember. Of course, markets are always unpredictable.  As UK prime minister Harold MacMillan noted in the 1960s, when asked what kept him awake at nights.  “Events, dear boy, events”.  But today’s markets have a 3-dimensional unpredictability: They have the normal issue of trying to understand fundamental levels […]

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Chemical markets see major slowdown since Q2

Chemical production is a time-proven leading indicator for the global economy.  And as the chart above shows, it has been signalling that a downturn is underway since April.  Based on American Chemistry Council data, it highlights: Global growth peaked at 5% in April and was down to 3.3% in January (black line) Only the N American […]

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PVC export boom to Turkey supports EU chloralkali demand

European chloralkali producers ended up having a relatively good year in 2014, despite having been over-optimistic about likely demand levels in Q3.  They held operating rates at 78% in Q3, in line with H1 levels.  But realism soon prevailed, and producers quickly cut rates to average 75% in Q4 to compensate. The chart shows the detail of developments since 2009 (based […]

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2014 another bad year for force majeures

2013 wasn’t a good year for chemical plant reliability.  As I noted a year ago, force majeures (when plants go offline unexpectedly) were close to a record level. Very worryingly, 2014 turns out to have been far worse as the chart above shows, based on the reports in ICIS news: 2014 saw a total of […]

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Companies see confidence ebb away as China slows, US cost advantage weakens

It feels like the end of an era, as we survey the usual quarterly update of chemical company results.  For several years, there have been 3 or 4 key dimensions: US companies have been very profitable due to shale gas Asian companies have done well with volume, due to Chinese demand Middle Eastern companies have done well due to […]

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