As the chart above shows, the spreads or differentials between China CFR HDPE injection grade prices and CFR Japan naphtha costs are this year the lowest they have been since 1990.
Asian Chemical Connections
THERE IS A FEELING out there that the chemicals and polymers industry is undergoing a typical downcycle that will last a few years, followed by yet another spectacular fly-up in margins. But I believe a great deal more is happening beyond the usual cycles of over-building followed by under-building.
Because companies in all manufacturing and service sectors haven’t been adequately charged for the natural resources they use, and the damage they cause to the environment, we face the risks of catastrophic climate change and more plastic in the oceans than fish.
ANY short-term recovery in China’s PE and PP markets will likely be driven by supply and not demand. Local supply could become tighter on refinery rate cuts. Refineries have reduced production because of weak gasoline and diesel demand.
CHINA’S polypropylene (PP) industry is in the short- to medium- term is being pushed into going global perhaps quicker than it had intended. This is because of the collapse of local demand and the resulting all-time weak netbacks in China versus most of the other regions.
WAS IT JUST an almightily big bubble that cannot now be re-inflated, even if Beijing follows through on its plans to inject $148bn in loans into the country’s troubled real -estate sector? Once confidence has gone, such an intangible thing, there is a risk it cannot be restored.
IF THERE IS no return to the historic patterns of spreads between China’s petrochemicals prices and feedstock costs, there will be no economic recovery.
GEOPOLITICS IS, I believe, just one aspect of a crisis facing the chemicals industry that is deeper and more complex than anything we have faced before.
Front mind right now in geopolitics is Ukraine-Russia and the gas-supply crisis facing Europe,
THE LATEST DATA on linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) China CFR (cost & freight) pricing spreads over CFR Japan naphtha costs underlines the evidence from the other grades of polyolefins, that China is a long way from a full economic recovery.
AS RECENTLY AS 2020, China’s polypropylene (PP) exports totalled just 424,746 tonnes, causing what must have been barely a ripple of anxiety among the major Asian and Middle East exporters. But as the slide below shows, in 2021, China moved into the group of top exporters as its exports surged to 1.4m tonnes. This year, exports could be 1.7m tonnes or higher.