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Crikey, did I eat that much?

Australia, Business, China, India, Singapore, Thailand, US
By John Richardson on 25-Sep-2008

The old saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” has at last been proved true with the virtual collapse of the global financial system – and with it, quite possibly, the world’s economy.

But for the last decade or more, the chemicals industry, like every other industry, gorged itself on an easy credit-fuelled property boom that’s swept the globe.

In Singapore until very recently, real estate was red hot. Surprise, surprise, oversupply beckons, the market is flat and a pricing collapse cannot be ruled out.

Property bubbles come and go and so cyclical downturns were inevitable in Singapore, Thailand, India, China and Australia.

But perhaps the long-term fallout of the crisis – a much more prudently managed banking sector – might have negative implications for chemical demand-growth multiples over GDP.

As the problem rests mainly with US lenders, though, it’s hard to say whether credit will also become much harder to obtain for good in Asia and other emerging markets.

But the appetite to lend money to average and below-average earners at high multiples of annual incomes – and with incredibly low “teaser” interest rates – will at the very least take a few years to recover.

Mohamed El-Erian, co-CEO and co-chief investment officer for Pimco, analyses the implications of this tighter credit climate in today’s Financial Times.

It is worth asking your friendly neighbourhood consultant or in-house researcher whether any of their growth scenarios take into account the possibility of much tighter lending conditions for many years to come.

As the American Chemistry Council points out, $16,000 of chemicals are consumed when an average home is built in the states.

On a global basis, this alone means an awful lot of demand without counting consumption by real estate in other countries.