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Wearing blinkers is a job requirement

Aromatics, Business, China, Company Strategy, Economics, Europe, Japan, Middle East, Polyolefins, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, US
By John Richardson on 13-Oct-2009

“Take it from me, peripheral vision isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially if you want to get a decent annual bonus….”


Blinkers.jpgSource of picture: www.whipnspurs.co.nz


Here’s a rant for Tuesday – with thanks to Paul Hodges for informing some of the thinking (I’d like to lay credit to certain parts of this…)

Purchasing managers are professionally required to wear blinkers. All they care about is making sure that they are ahead of the game because of the way their performances are measured.

So up until Q4 2008 they ignored headlines such as “US auto demand slumps on surging gasoline costs and slowing economy” and “western house prices plummet on sub-prime mortgage crisis.”

Oil prices seemed to be on the forever-up and liquidity was abundant. The result was purchasing in big volumes ahead of anticipated further price rises until the great unravelling post-Lehman Brothers.

Senior strategists – whose job it was to worry about the big picture – were also wearing blinkers, deluded in the belief that 2006-07 demand levels would go on forever.

Cracker operating rates were going to remain comfortably above 80% during the coming down cycle, was the consensus view in the first half of last year.

Now the industry is going to have to live with global averages of between 60-70% over the next few years.

The chemicals industry has lost three years of demand growth as global production is now back to early 2006 levels. It is unlikely to budge much in a favourable direction until at least 2011.

The reason is that real western growth, minus all the froth of commodity and equity markets, is going to remain weak on unemployment and high personal debt problems.

Another concern is unwinding government subsidies.

Too many people might have been misled by Chinese imports over the last 7-8 months.

The strength of these imports wasn’t sustainable and was due to temporary factors that have now come to an end.

Banking on China as the leader of a global recovery is utter nonsense when you look at the country’s low per capita chemicals consumption and its heavy export dependency.

Any Northeast or Southeast Asian producer high on the cost curve is likely to find it harder to penetrate western markets in 2010.

How can these producers – when they import crude oil – export, say, PE to Europe at fair market prices in the face of much-stronger Middle East competition?

Trade lawyers should do very well from anti-dumping cases in 2010.

This is a protracted supply-driven U-shaped downturn, and we are only just getting towards the bottom of the U.

Lots of Middle East capacity has been delayed – and the next big wave of Chinese start-ups is only just beginning.

Studying the tone of Q3 results statements will be a good indication to what extent senior execs have taken on board this new reality (actually it’s not that new – we’ve been waffling on about this on this blog for months).