Will China, the world’s most important HDPE demand centre, and an increasingly important supply centre, drag Europe down to its levels? Or will the China market increase closer to today’s levels in Europe?
Asian Chemical Connections
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.
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.
CHIINA’S LDPE spreads over naphtha feedstock costs have held up very well this. But this doesn’t mean to say that demand is good. Chinese demand could fall by as much as 8% in 2022.
My previous best-case outcome for China’s HDPE demand growth in 2022 was 6%. My worst-case scenario was a 3% decline. Now, though, I worry that the best-case outcome for 2022 HDPE demand could be flat or zero growth. My worst-case outcome is a 4% decline.
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.
Comparative PE and PP pricing data between Vietnam and southeast asia – and the “spreads” numbers between China PE and PP prices and naphtha costs – suggest the China economy has yet to recover.
RECOVERY? WHAT RECOVERY? Some market players are talking about a rebound in the Chinese economy, and, therefore, polyolefins demand, but the critically important spreads data continue to tell a different story. Nothing has changed from last week.
At some point, polyolefins exporters to China and the local producers will regain pricing power. This will become apparent from a widening of spreads as economic activity returns to normal. It really is as simple as this. So, you need our data and analysis.
WE HAVE BEEN here before, of course. In April 2020, pessimism abounded about China’s growth prospects that turned out to be unfounded because of the extraordinary strength of its post peak-pandemic recovery. But circumstances that led to the economic rebound in the second half of 2020 were very different.