IT REALLY ISN’T doom and gloom if you take the longer-term view. Instead, for the chemical companies with the right strategies, the opportunities to build new sustainable business models are huge. The winners will make an awful lot of money while also doing the right things for humanity and our natural environment.
Asian Chemical Connections
The January-September data suggested full-year China PP exports to these top ten destinations 75,543 tonnes fewer than the January-August numbers. And the January-September numbers implied total 2021 China exports to all destinations of 1.47m tonnes compared with January-August that indicated 1.58m tonnes.
HDPE film grade price premiums for selected countries and regions over China recovered in September and October of this year. In 2020, premiums averaged just $36/tonne compared with $248/tonne in January 2021-October 2022.
China’s share of global demand growth in the seven big resins jumped to an astonishing 67% in 2002-2021. Northeast Asia ex-China’s share of demand fell to minus 1% with Europe and North America worth just 4% and 2% of growth respectively. The chemicals world had become dangerously lopsided.
The January-September 2022 multiple of BFOE crude prices per barrel over CFR Japan naphtha prices per tonne averaged just 7.9. The lowest multiple so far this year was 6.9 in August. The January-September 2022 average was the lowest annual average since our naphtha price assessments began in March 1990.
China accounted for 33% of global growth in the seven major synthetic resins between 1990 and 2001. But this jumped to 63% in 2002-2021. In distant second place during both these periods was the Asia and Pacific region at 15% and 17% respectively.
Every tonne of polymer you decide not to produce because there isn’t a viable market will save vital revenues – especially as feedstock costs will remain very volatile. Every tonne of polymer you do produce because the market works will earn you crucial money at a time of declining overall sales.
UNTIL WE SEE a recovery in China PP-naphtha spreads during around a 12-month period to close to long-term annual averages, there will have been no complete rebound in the market. The spread so far this year at just $264/tonne is 41% lower than the previous lowest year of $447/tonne in 2012.
THESE ARE STILL extraordinary times in global polyolefins markets. Although the great equalisation has begun as pricing in most of the rest of the world falls towards Chinese levels, price premiums over China remain historically very high. There are thus still strong opportunities for exporters to make good netbacks in markets other than China.
Northwest Europe PP price premiums over China averaged $161/tonne between November 2002 and December 2020. Between January 2021 and 16 September 2022, price premiums averaged $749/tonne. What would be the consequences for European PP pricing and profitability if price premiums returned much closer to their long-term averages?