Lotte’s Indonesian gamble

By Malini Hariharan

South Korea’s Lotte Group, parent company of Honam Petrochemical, is making yet another bold move. After acquiring Malaysia’s Titan Chemicals last year, Lotte has set its sights on a major petrochemical project in Indonesia.

“We will start the feasibility study to develop a petrochemical project in Merak, Banten province, this year. The investment is estimated to cost between $3 billion to $5 billion,” said Shin Dong-bin, chairman of the Lotte Group, after a meeting with the Indonesian president.

Construction of the project is expected to start next year with completion within four to five years.

Lotte already has a presence in the Indonesian polyethylene (PE) market with Honam operating two plants that it obtained via the Titan acquisition.

The Titan acquisition gave Lotte a presence in Indoneisa in the form of a polyethylene (PE). Moving upstream to build a cracker to secure feedstock would appear to be a logical move.

The project appears to be part of a wider Lotte strategy that involves an expansion in the Indonesian retail sector. And Lotte is likely to receive plenty of incentives as the Indonesian government is keen to attract foreign investors.

This will be needed as Indonesia has been a difficult place to justify a petrochemical investment with competition from established players in Southeast Asia and also the Middle East. Chandra Asri, the country’s sole cracker operator which relies on imported naphtha, has struggled ever since it commenced operations more than ten years back. The environment has become even more difficult after the implementation of the Asean FTA and the China-Asean FTA this year.

Details of Lotte’s planned project are not yet available. It is also not clear if this is in addition to an expansion of Malaysian crackers that Honam had talked about at the time of the Titan acquisition.

And can Indonesia support multiple projects? Chandra Asri is once again talking about expanding its cracker by 400,000 tonnes/year to 1m tonnes/year and debottlenecking its PE and polypropylene (PP) plants. It also plans to diversify its feedstock slate to include liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The company has tied up with Vopak to start construction of a terminal at the end of this year with operations to being in 2014.

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