Petrochemicals must face up to multiple challenges

Economic growth

SHARE THIS STORY

Europe’s petrochemical sector must prepare now for the trade war, US start-ups, Brexit and the circular economy, as I discuss in this interview with Will Beacham of ICIS news  at the European Petrochemical Association Conference.

With higher tariff barriers going up between the US and China, the market in Europe is likely to experience an influx of polymers and other chemicals from exporters looking for a new home for their production, International eChem chairman, Paul Hodges said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the European Petrochemical Association’s annual meeting in Vienna, he said: “The thing we have to watch out for is displaced product which can’t go from the US any more to China and therefore will likely come to Europe.

In addition to polyethylene, there is an indirect effect as domestic demand in China is also falling, he said, leaving other Asian producers which usually export there to also seek new markets and targeting Europe.

The US isn’t buying so many consumer goods from China any more – and that seems to be the case because container ships going from China to the US for Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t full. So NE and SE Asian chemical producers haven’t got the business they expect in China and are exporting to Europe instead.  We don’t know how disruptive this will be but it has quite a lot of potential.”

US polymer start-ups
Hodges believes that the new US polymer capacities will go ahead even if the demand is not there for the product. This is because the ethane feedstocks they use need to be extracted by the producers and sellers of natural gas who must remove ethane from the gas stream to make it safe.

For these producers some of the cost advantages have already disappeared because of rising ethane prices.

The exports of US ethane are adding one or two more crackers to the total. And without sufficient capacity ethane prices have become higher and more volatile.”

Hodges points out that pricing power is being lost as poor demand means producers cannot pass on the effect of rising oil prices. “Margins are being hit with some falling by 50-60%,” he said.

Circular economy
EU targets mean that all plastic packaging must be capable of being recycled, reused or composted in Europe by 2025. For the industry this could be a huge opportunity, but only if it acts fast, said Hodges: “We have to develop the technology that allows that to happen. We will need the [regulatory] approvals and if we don’t get moving in the next 12-18 months we are in trouble.”

Brexit beckons
According to Hodges: “We are in the end game for Brexit. We talk to senior politicians from both sides who don’t think there is a parliamentary majority for any Brexit option.”

He fears that if no deal can be agreed there is a chance the UK will refuse to pay its £39bn divorce bill.

Then what happens to chemical regulation and transport? Although the bigger companies have made preparations, only one in seven in the supply chains are getting prepared,” he added.  This is why we have launched ReadyforBrexit.

You can listen to the full podcast interview by clicking here.

PREVIOUS POST

Is your business Ready for Brexit?

07/10/2018

Time is running out for the UK government to agree a Brexit deal with Europe.  ...

Learn more
NEXT POST

Rising interest rates, volatile exchange rates, high oil prices and plastic waste challenge aromatics industry

18/10/2018

Fears are rising about the risks of recession, as I discuss in a new one-page su...

Learn more
More posts
Budgeting for paradigm shifts and a debt crisis
27/10/2019

It is now 8 years since John Richardson and I published our 10-year forecast for 2021 in Boom, Gloom...

Read
Paradigm shifts create Winners and Losers
20/10/2019

MY ANNUAL BUDGET OUTLOOK WILL BE PUBLISHED NEXT WEEK Next week, I will publish my annual Budget Outl...

Read
Markets face major paradigm shifts as recession approaches
06/10/2019

Major paradigm shifts are occurring in the global economy, as I describe in a new analysis for ICIS ...

Read
No Deal Brexit still a likely option if opposition parties fail to support a new referendum
15/09/2019

Canada’s normally pro-UK ‘Globe and Mail’ summed up the prevailing external view of Brexit las...

Read
UK, EU27 and EEA businesses need to start planning for a No Deal Brexit on 31 October
28/07/2019

New UK premier, Boris Johnson, said last week that the UK must leave the EU by 31 October, “do or ...

Read
London house prices edge closer to a tumble
21/07/2019

After the excitement of Wimbledon tennis and a cricket World Cup final, Londoners were back to their...

Read
G7 births hit new record low, below Depression level in 1933
14/07/2019

If a country doesn’t have any babies, then in time it won’t have an economy. But that...

Read
From subprime to stimulus…and now social division
06/07/2019

The blog has now been running for 12 years since the first post was written from Thailand at the end...

Read

Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more

Analytics

Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more