China’s chemical imports up – again!

Aromatics, China, Fibre Intermediates, Olefins, Polyolefins, Styrenics

By John Richardson

We don’t have the actual data yet (hopefully, we’ll be able to give you the numbers later this week), but……

……China’s commodity chemicals and polymer imports “continued to amaze” in September with monoethylene glycol (MEG) shipments hitting an all-time high, said Jean Sudol, president of US-based International Trader Publications Inc (ITP).

“Imports of most of the commodity polymers we follow continued heavy in September, with relatively small changes, most of them positive from August,” added Sudol, whose company provides trade data and analysis on chemicals and polymers.

The commodity polymers ITP tracks showing increases were low-density polyethylene (LDPE), linear-low density PE (LLDPE), high-density PE (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) and propylene copolymers.

“Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) trended downwards for the third month in row with polystyrene (PS) mixed,” she added.

Imports of the engineering polymers acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polyacetals and styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) also rose, continuing an upward trend that has lasted several months.

“Among the major organics, imports of ethylene dichloride (EDC), vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), methanol, styrene and propylene were also up from August. MEG reached a new all-time high.”

But benzene imports remained low, maintaining a trend that began in June, with ethylene shipments slowing moderately.

Domestic demand is still a relatively low proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) growth and so a lot of this stuff must be going into gains made in re-exports of finished goods.

Commodity chemicals pricing is more affordable than in H1 last year.

A depreciated Yuan versus the currencies of other developing countries, raw-material import tax cuts, increased export tax rebates and very flexible labour markets have also made China’s exports more competitive.

There’s also a mountain of cheap and plentiful bank lending to make life even easier for the Chinese re-exporter.

The end-result is that – as we discussed yesterday – China has seized market share in export sectors including textiles and garments and electronic goods.

Chemicals companies whose main business is with China might be benefiting, whereas exporters to other countries could be losing out as could chemicals industries in these other countries.

China’s finished product exports might be down in value terms. But how much does this matter if you have such big competitive advantages and state-owned banks willing to bail you out if you get into trouble?

In some cases there could have even been export-volume improvements in 2009 over pre-crisis levels. This, along with the lower pricing, could help explain what seem like counter-intuitively high record-high shipments of chemicals and polymers to China.

There are winners and losers in other export-focused countries.

It’s fine if you supply, for example, commodities or high-tech components to China to be assembled in to finished electronic goods.

But it’s not so rosy if you compete head-on in industries such as textiles and garments and plastic toys.

Chinese manufacturers are likely to have the capacity to discount even deeper thanks to a supportive government. Further discounting might become essential if other areas of the economy falter.

Even with all this backing, margins are likely to become tighter – especially as the widespread perception is that oil prices are heading back to $100 a barrel. Perceptions make the price through the futures market.

This will leave the Middle East, with its increasing capacities, in a very strong position to take advantage of what could be an even longer bull-run in commodity chemical and polymer exports to China.

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