News in Brief

28 February 2014 09:51 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

EUROPE

BASF’s Bock rules out shale gas imports
BASF has ruled out the possibility of importing shale gas from the US for use in its European petrochemicals operations, claiming that cheap ethane imports from the US do not fit plans for its European operations, the Germany-based producer’s chief executive. Addressing reporters at its Ludwigshafen headquarters, BASF CEO Kurt Bock said its current product slate in Europe relied on heavier naphtha feedstocks, and there are no plans to alter this.

UK Croda 2013 operating profit up 3.3%
UK specialty chemicals firm Croda posted full year operating profit for 2013 of £263.3m, an increase of 3.3% compared to the previous year, and sales of £1.08bn (up 2.4%) on the back of higher operating profit on the Performance Technologies segment and a 10.8% increase in sales of new and protected products. By business segments, operating profit grew in all except in Industrial Chemicals, where it remained flat at £10.3m.

UK Elementis 2013 net profit up 6.4% to $106.7m
UK specialty chemicals company Elementis reported full year net profit for 2013 at $106.7m, an increase of 6.4% compared to 2012, while sales rose 3% to $776.8m. However, the only Elementis business division to post positive sales in 2013 was Specialty Products, with an increase of 9.6% to $502.8m. The Chromium division reported sales of $214.8m, a 10.5% decrease. Sales at Surfactants posted a decrease of 0.4% to $72.2m, and other Inter-segment divisions posted negative sales of $13m.

Germany’s BASF Q4 net income up 16%
BASF’s net income for the fourth quarter of 2013 jumped by 16% year on year to €1.14bn on the back of gains from acquisitions and higher sales volumes, the Germany-based chemicals major said.Volume increases across all divisions helped to drive a slight rise in sales for the quarter year on year to €18.15bn compared to €17.98bn during the fourth quarter of 2012, despite lower overall prices year on year as a result of negative currency effects.

Borealis PDH splitter at Kallo running normally
Borealis’s splitter at its propane dehydrogenation (PDH) facility in Kallo, Belgium, is running normally after planned maintenance that started in January, a company source said. The PDH reactor at the site is still in maintenance, which is expected to last until early March, according to the schedule. The nameplate capacity for propylene at the site is 480,000 tonnes/year, according to the source.

Slovakia’s Slovnaft Q4 petchems sales fall 2%
Slovnaft’s fourth-quarter 2013 petrochemical sales revenues edged down 2% year on year to €122m from a restated €124m in the same period the year before, the Slovak company said. The fourth quarter also saw the company’s average petrochemical margin increase by 23% year on year to reach €243/tonne due to lower quoted naphtha prices. The overall net result at Slovnaft fell to a €5m loss from a restated net profit of €11m in the same quarter a year previously.

German chemical firms seek to curb union power
Germany’s chemical employers on Friday urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to enact legislation that would curb the power of smaller labour unions. Wiesbaden-based chemical employers group BAVC pointed in particular to unions formed by pilots or train drivers, which yield disproportionate power in labour disputes, it said. BAVC urged the government to enshrine into law a collective bargaining principle – called “Tarifeinheit” – that lays down that there is only one collective bargaining deal for all workers of a plant.

ZAP hails gas diversity with Vattenfall deal
Poland’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producer Zaklady Azotowe Pulawy (ZAP) has signed a zloty (Zl) 90m ($29.7m, €21.6m) deal with Hamburg-based Vattenfall Energy Trading, providing substantial diversification in the sourcing of its gas feedstock, ZAP said. Valid until the end of 2014, the contract with Vattenfall Energy Trading would mean that this year one-fifth of ZAP’s natural gas requirement would flow to the company from Poland’s western border.

Borealis Q4 net profit up 48% as sales rise 15%
Borealis’ fourth-quarter net profit jumped 48% year on year to €148m, as sales over the period rose 15% to €2.15bn, the Austria-based plastics, chemicals and fertilizer producer said. However, for the whole of 2013, net profit decreased 12% year on year to €423m on the back of a softening fertilizer market and lower earnings from Borouge, a joint venture between Borealis and the Abu Dhabi national oil company (ADNOC), based in Ruwais, Abu Dhabi.


AMERICAS

Dow targets Q3 for Texas cracker construction
US-based Dow Chemical expects to start construction on its 1.5m tonne/year ethane cracker in Freeport, Texas, by the third quarter of 2014, a spokesperson said. The company is currently in the process of securing air and environmental permits for the cracker and derivative plants. “Both air and GHG [greenhouse gases] permits are on track to support start of major construction in Q3 2014,” a Dow Chemical spokesperson told ICIS. “Construction work for a new ethylene production facility… is expected to commence in 2014, and the project remains on track towards a scheduled start-up in 2017.”

US Feb chemical activity barometer flat
The US chemical activity barometer (CAB) in February was flat over January, partly because of winter weather disrupting production, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) said. The flat CAB of 94.1 in February ended nine consecutive monthly gains on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. The February rate is flat from January and up 0.2% over the December 2013 figure of 93.9. The February CAB is up 2.1% year on year. The CAB readings for December 2013 and January 2014 were revised slightly higher from earlier reports.

US GDP growth to be just 2.5%/year for decade
The US economy is not likely to see GDP growth of more than 2.5% over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said, with continued unemployment and an aging workforce helping to keep growth below par. Douglas Elmendorf, director of the CBO said continued relatively high unemployment and a decline in workforce participation will combine to keep US GDP growth at a level just below trend for the near term. US average GDP expansion since World War II has been in the range of 3-3.5% annually, barring recessionary periods.

Rhodia resumes Brazil nylon production
Rhodia has resumed production of nylon and polyamide (PA) intermediates at its Paulinia complex in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, following a drought that made the company stop production as a result of a lack of water. It uses water on its industrial processes, mainly in refrigeration towers. Rhodia had said it would be importing nylon and intermediates to supply its customer as long as water levels remain low at the Atibaia river.

US existing home sales fall 5.1% in Jan
US sales of existing homes declined sharply in January from December, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), falling by 5.1% to the lowest level in 18 months with harsh winter weather, rising prices, tight credit and higher interest rates blamed. The pace of selling fell to a seasonally adjusted annual figure of 4.62m units from the December rate of 4.87m. December’s pace of existing home sales had marked a narrow 1% advance that ended a three-month decline in activity.

US soda ash production hits record
US soda ash production rose in December, pushing 2013 to surpass the production record set in 2008, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS). December production of US natural soda ash hit 978,000 tonnes, up 2% from the 954,000 tonnes shoveled out of the desert production facilities of US producers in Wyoming and California during November. That brought US production for 2013 to 11.4m tonnes, surpassing 2008’s 11.3m tonnes.

Methanex 2nd Chile plant to be in Louisiana by Sep
Methanex’s second methanol plant to be moved from Chile is being dismantled there and will be shipped to Louisiana, US. “We expect it to be in Geismar in September,” said CEO John Floren. The first plant, a 1m tonne/year unit moved from the company’s Punta Arenas, Chile, complex, has arrived at the Geismar site and has been unloaded. Floren said Geismar 1, as it has been tagged, has been targeted for start-up later this year. Geismar 2 is scheduled to begin running in the first half of 2016.

Westlake full chlor-alkali capacity set by Q2
Westlake Chemical’s additional chlor-alkali capacity in Geismar, Louisiana, US will be operating at full commercial production rates by the end of the first quarter, company executives said. The plant, which will add about 100,000 electrochemical units (ECUs) to its existing 250,000 ECU/year facility near Baton Rouge, began its start-up in December. Company officials said the new capacity is running at a sufficient rate so that Westlake no longer buys chlorine on the merchant market to feed its chlor-vinyls operations to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Chemtura still pursuing India bromine deal
US-based Chemtura has not yet been able to close its planned acquisition of the bromine assets of India’s Solaris Chemtech - well over a year after first announcing the deal in 2012. However, it continues to pursue Solaris, and it is also interested in possible bolt-on acquisitions in the petroleum additives sector, Chemtura CEO Craig Rogerson said. “We want to get [Solaris] done, but there are legal hurdles, political hurdles, there’s all kinds of stuff going on in India right now,” said Rogerson.


ASIA

Asahi Kasei to close some Japan operations
Asahi Kasei will permanently close some of its downstream plants in Japan ahead of a planned consolidation of its Mizushima cracker with Mitsubishi Chemical’s by April 2016. In Kawasaki, its 150,000 tone/year acrylonitrile plant will cease production in August 2014. In Mizushima, its 24,000 tonne/year styrene butadiene latex plant and 65,000 tonne/year acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene plant will be closed in December 2015. Closure of its 37,000 tonne/year epoxy resins plant and 320,000 tonne/year styrene monomer plant are due in May 2015 and in March 2016, respectively.

Mitsui Chemicals plans Osaka MEG shutdown
Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals is planning to shut its 50,000 tonne/year monoethylene glycol (MEG) plant in Osaka for maintenance from 19 June to 25 July, a company source said. The company is now running the plant at 90% of namplate capacity.

Hanwha eyes overhaul of Ulsan EVA/LDPE plants
South Korea’s Hanwha Chemicals plans to shut its ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/low density polyethylene (LDPE) swing production lines at Ulsan for annual maintenance in September or October, a company official said. The company operates three EVA/LDPE lines at the Ulsan site, which has a combined capacity of 120,000 tonnes/year. The plants produces EVA with 15-40% vinyl acetate (VA) content. The turnaround may last up between one to two months.

Shanghai SECCO to start-up BD unit by June
China’s Shanghai SECCO Petrochemical plans to start up its new 90,000 tonne/year butadiene (BD) unit in Shanghai by June, market sources said. The new unit will expand the company’s BD capacity to 180,000 tonnes/year. The company currently runs a separate 90,000 tonne/year BD unit at the site.

Styron expands China latex capacity
Styron will expand its latex capacity in China with a new reactor to be built in Zhangjiagang, the US-headquartered plastics and rubber producer said. The reactor is expected to commence production in the second quarter of 2015 and will be the fourth unit of its kind at the site, Styron said in a statement. Details on investments and actual capacity expansion were not disclosed.

China’s Ningxia Shenhua Coal restarts PP units
China’s Shenhua Ningxia Coal Industry Group restarted its 200,000 tonne/year and 300,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) units in Ningxia Hui autonomous region on 24 February, a company source said. The units were shut on 15 February because of technical issues. The units are producing flat yarn and injection grade at full capacity.

Taiwan’s Nan Ya plastics plans unit safety checks
Taiwan’s Nan Ya Plastics plans to shut its 400,000 tonne/year plasticizers plant in Mailiao in early March for safety checks, a company source said. The plant, which produces dioctyl phthalate (DOP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and dioctyl terephthalate (DOTP), will be off line for around 15 days. The plant is currently running at 80% capacity.

Commodity Exchange in China to trade PP futures
China was due to launch the trading of PP futures at the Dalian Commodity Exchange (DCE) on 28 February 2014. The first batch of 10 contracts from May 2014 to February 2015 will traded, according to the DCE. Market players are keeping a wait-and-see stance, unsure of how the futures trading will affect the physical PP market.

Lucite brings forward China MMA maintenance
Lucite International will be bringing forward the shutdown of its 93,000 tonne/year methyl methacrylate (MMA) plant in Shanghai, China for maintenance to early next month from mid-March, a company source said. The maintenance will last for about 55 days.

China BlueChemical to exit Baotou CTO project
Hong Kong-listed China BlueChemical plans to exit its coal-to-olefin (CTO) project at Baotou in Inner Mongolia because of a gloomy outlook, a company official said. The project was meant to produce 600,000 tonnes/year of olefins, 300,000 tonnes/year of acetic acid plus some 1m tonnes/year of other chemical products.

Sinopec Changling sets Hunan PP maintenance
China’s Sinopec Changling plans to shut its 100,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) plant in Hunan province for regular maintenance from 9 March, a company source said. The shutdown will last 45 days. The plant is currently producing biaxially-oriented PP (BOPP). The company is a subsidiary of state-owned petrochemical giant Sinopec.

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