Home Blogs Asian Chemical Connections All those wasted lives – but at least you got your bonus

All those wasted lives – but at least you got your bonus

China, Economics, Europe, Fibre Intermediates, Middle East, Olefins, Polyolefins, US
By John Richardson on 29-Oct-2008

Mr Obscenely Rich Got Out In Tiime Banker, please look into these eyes, see the pain from the last Great Depression and maybe you will give some of your obscenely huge bonus towards poverty relief.

And perhaps also you’ll be willing to pay for all the counselling that the children of this new Great Depression will need when they grow up into adults. As a rich an educated breed, you should be aware that the first few years of a child’s life, how secure and encouraged they feel, determines their entire future.

Anyway, see below for my take on the state of the crisis and its implication for chemicals, written for a good friend and contact.

Chemicals demand is being affected by frozen credit markets and the fall in export trade of finished goods to the West.

The credit markets are showing signs of easing thanks to all the government intervention.

But as you can see from this article, the feedback effect on the consumer, and therefore, manufacturing companies, could get a great deal worse before it gets better. Bad corporate results caused the declines in stock markets yesterday (Wednesday 23 October) and as more consumer loans turn soar and unemployment rises globally, corporate earnings will deteriorate even further – at least for the 12 months, I think.

The good news from the financial is that the much-feared credit-default crisis may not be severe as people had expected.

However, the chemicals industry will remain under severe strain for at least the next year, even if the credit crisis eases enabling letters of credit to be more easily obtained (a global shortage of LC’s has left commodity shipments, including chemicals, stranded).

The reasons are:

1.) The export dependency of some economies. China’s GDP growth will be around 9% this year compared with 11.9% last year, for example, largely due to the slowdown in export trade. Delegates at the APPEC conference in Singapore this week were talking about very quiet demand for fuel products and chemicals at a time when China should be ramping up manufacturing for exports to the West in time for Christmas. Economies such as Singapore are even more vulnerable
2.) The volatility in energy and chemicals pricing. You could probably produce a graph these days linking crude-oil price movements with the equity markets. So until everyone reaches a consensus that the bottom has been reached, we are going to see constant dramatic day-to-day fluctuations in equities and therefore crude. OPEC might cut production at its next meeting, but this will just mean the volatility is within a higher band ($70-90 a barrel is the prediction instead of the current $60-80 a barrel. You cannot rule out the possibility, even if OPEC does make cuts, of a lower range than today – $40-60 a barrel. This would indicate that the real economy has become a great deal worse). Volatility creates the danger of being caught on the wrong side of the deal for sellers, buyers and traders (e.g. high cost raw materials purchased one day that cannot be passed on in higher-cost finished product because of a sudden fall in crude). For resin buying patterns, the uncertainty over the direction of crude is a crucial factor – in a bull market they stock up and in a bear market they de-stock. Crude is in no-man’s land and so, combined with LC issues, worries about the overall economy and cancelled orders from customers buyers are remaining firmly on the sidelines.
3.) Last but certainly not least, is the huge wave of new capacity. Polypropylene was supposed to lead the downturn this year but didn’t because of start-up delays. Equipment-delivery problems are being blamed, but market reasons seem likely to be another factor. The problem is that with markets showing no signs of turning, producers with heavy debt commitments can only hold back for so long and so will have to commission capacity soon – even if at operating rates lower than planned. For the Middle East producers, now that there is no immediate sign of markets turning, start-ups might as well take place because at the very least on a cash-cost basis contributions will still be achieved on a cash-cost basis (because of low and fixed feedstock costs), just about no matter how low crude goes – and with it petrochemical pricing.

Conditions could get dramatically worse very quickly. One factor not included above is the run on Asian currencies, and possibly even some banking systems, because of the dollar ironically being used as a “safe haven investment”.

In the medium term, (the next 12-18 months) the only upside I can see is short-term recoveries in chemicals buying on signs that government interventions are working (with more likely to happen). But these recoveries, as I said, could be short-lived as more evidence emerges of the delayed effect on the real economy (e.g. further falls in corporate earnings).

To be frank, all bets are off on demand-growth forecasts – (so I am sorry this is not going to help you much in coming up with firm numbers!).

Everyone has been wrong and so it’s best to err on the side of extreme caution and with a bit of luck we might be pleasantly surprised.

To give you an example of how quickly things can change, a Chinese PTA producer had been forecasting overall polyester growth in China at 12% are recently as July; now it thinks the market will be lucky to get away with zero.

I’d suggest looking at your forecast numbers, going back to those who have supplied the numbers, and asking them if these take into account their worst-case scenarios. Any forecast that predates September cannot be trusted at all.

Hope this helps!

Best Regards