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Chemicals news

Mideast imports slow as trucking costs surge amid Red Sea crisis

DUBAI (ICIS)–Importers in the Middle East are being hit by surging costs of transporting goods by land through Saudi Arabia from the Jebel Ali port in the UAE a shipping crisis in the Red Sea to the west of the region. Increased demand meets truck shortage Polymer market activity slow to pick up after Eid holidays Logistics woes may spill into Strait of Hormuz as tensions escalate Buyers in Jordan, Syria and Israel have been relying more on this route to take cargoes coming in from elsewhere in the world. Most shipping companies avoid the Red Sea fearing attacks on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Houthi militants since late last year following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. GCC suppliers are the main exporters of PP and PE to the East Mediterranean region and have been selling most of the material through truck via Saudi Arabia, with limited quantities sold via the CFR (cost & freight) Aqba route. The Red Sea, which has the Suez Canal in the north, offers the shortest route between Asia and Europe and shipping access to the East Mediterranean markets. From the Jebel Ali port in Dubai to Jordan, land freight has more than doubled in recent months, a Jordanian trader said. ”We’ve seen jumps from $60-70/tonne [trucking] cost from Jebel Ali, to Jordan, via Saudi Arabia, to … as high as $150/tonne when ordering non-prime material for both PP and PE  from a major UAE-based supplier,” the trader said. The Middle East observed the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan from 10 March, during which working hours were reduced, culminating with the Eid ul-Fitr holiday during the second week of April. “Now that we are back from Eid, the expectations are towards some decreases in the [land freight] costs,” the trader said. In March, the spike in freight cost was due shortage of trucks following a sharp spike in demand to transport essential goods by land for Israel from Jebel Ali via Saudi Arabia. This shortage was exacerbated by Saudi Arabia’s existing ban on trucks older than 20 years from transiting through its territories, which came into effect in 2023. Trucking demand for polymer cargoes from Oman and the UAE to Egypt via Saudi Arabia also increased, causing a sharp increase in freight cost. “The cost of [transporting] polymers by truck to Egypt was around $80-100/tonne before March, but it increased to $120-140/tonne ahead of Ramadan Season,” a regional trader said. Saudi Arabia’s own cost of transporting polymer cargoes, however, was not affected, market players said, despite a lot of trucks mobilized since the beginning of the year to transport material inland from plants located on the west coast to ports situated on the east coast, so be able to ship them to customers in Asia. Overall polymer market activity has yet to pick up as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), East Mediterranean, and North African markets are just returning from the Eid holiday. Concerns are now shifting toward repercussions of a potential full-on war between Iran and Israel, which could further impact logistics in the region, specifically in the Strait of Hormuz, which could cause oil and feedstock prices to soar. Explosions in Iran, Syria and Iraq were reported early on Friday, causing oil prices to surge by more than $3/barrel in early trade, with Brent crude breaching $90/barrel before easing down. According to media reports, Israel was behind the explosions in Iran. The Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, is bordered by Iran, Oman and the UAE. It is an important chokepoint for energy trades from the Middle East. On 13 April, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized Portuguese-flagged container ship MSC Aries in the key shipping lane which Tehran says is linked to Israel. On the same day, Iran had launched drones and missiles on Israel, which it blames for a fatal attack on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus that killed a high-ranking member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards and eight other officers. Focus article by Nadim Salamoun and Pearl Bantillo Click here to read the ICIS LOGISTICS topic page, which examines the impact of shipping disruptions on oil, gas, fertilizer and chemical markets.

19-Apr-2024

Asia petrochemical shares tumble on Mideast concerns; oil pares gains

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Shares of petrochemical companies in Asia slumped on Friday, while oil prices surged amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following reported explosions in Iran, Syria and Iraq. Japan’s Nikkei 225 falls 2.66% at close of trade Brent crude briefly crosses $90/bbl; oil eases off highs Israel behind Iran explosions – reports At 07:24 GMT, Asahi Kasei Corp and Mitsui Chemicals were down by 1.31% and 1.98%, respectively, in Tokyo, as Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 shed 2.66% to close at 37,068.35. In Seoul, LG Chem fell 2.11% as South Korea's KOSPI composite fell by 1.63% to 2,591.86. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slipped by 0.98% to 16,226.07. In southeast Asia, PETRONAS Chemicals Group (PCG) slipped by 0.44% while Siam Cement Group (SCG) was down 2.69%. High oil prices will continue to squeeze margins of petrochemical producers, which are struggling with poor demand and overcapacity. Middle East markets in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar could mirror the movement in Asia when they open on 21 April. Regional bourses are closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Oil prices pared earlier gains in the afternoon trade in Asia after surging by more than $3/barrel earlier in the session, following reports by various media outlets in the Middle East of explosions in Iran, Syria, and Iraq. "If these reports turn out to be true, fears over further escalation will only grow, as well as concerns that we are potentially moving closer towards a situation where oil supply risks lead to actual supply disruptions," said Dutch banking and financial information services provider ING in a note on Friday. Overnight, oil prices settled mixed following a sell-off early in the week as financial markets discounted fears of a war between Israel and Iran that could disrupt crude supplies. Explosions were heard around the central city of Isfahan early on Friday, Iranian media reported, adding that three drones were destroyed after the country's air defense systems were activated. Isfahan houses a significant military airbase, and the province is host to numerous Iranian nuclear facilities, among them the city of Natanz, which is central to Iran's uranium enrichment efforts. Iran's state-run Press TV in a report said that "important facilities in the Isfahan province, especially nuclear facilities, are completely safe and no accidents have been reported". Iran initially closed its airports in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan after the attack but has since re-opened them. "Normal operations have resumed for flights at Iranian airports including Imam Khomeini International Airport and Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran after temporary delays," Press TV said, citing the Iran Airports and Air Navigation Co. Elsewhere, Iran’s official IRNA news agency said a series of explosions in Syria targeted military sites. In Iraq, meanwhile, explosions were reported in the al-Imam area of Babel. The reports have sparked worry that Israel has retaliated against Iran's drone attacks last week. Iran launched the strikes on 13 April in response to a suspected Israeli airstrike on Iran's consulate in Syria at the start of the month. Prior to the news of Friday's attacks, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian issued a warning during an interview with US broadcaster CNN on Thursday that Iran would respond "immediately and with maximum intensity" to any Israeli aggression. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Additional reporting by Nadim Salamoun

19-Apr-2024

PODCAST: Asia, Mideast PET markets see need-based buying, geopolitics weigh on sentiment

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Buying activities in the Asia and Middle East polyethylene terephthalate (PET) markets remained relatively need-based, with factors like geopolitical tensions and uncertainties in freight rates clouding sentiment. Asian market sentiment mixed, PET tracks upstream closely Uncertainty around freight rates leads to need-based buying Mideast buyers’ inventories high, but some replenishment expected post-Eid break In this chemical podcast, ICIS editors Damini Dabholkar and Zachary Tia discuss recent market conditions with an outlook ahead in Asia and the Middle East. ICIS will be at the Chinaplas conference in Shanghai from 23-26 April. Please get in touch with our team there for more discussion on the PET market.

18-Apr-2024

PODCAST: EU close to signing off most important packaging regulation in decades

BARCELONA (ICIS)–Europe is finalizing the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR), with far-reaching implications for both virgin and recycled polymer producers. Most significant EU packaging legislation in decades Includes binding targets for recycling and recyclability PPWR will have huge impact on virgin and recycled packaging sectors Legislation in final stages but may not be passed before EU elections in June Working groups need to be set up across recycling value chains In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews ICIS senior recycling editor Mark Victory, ICIS insight editor Nigel Davis, and Paul Hodges, chairman of New Normal Consulting. Editor’s note: This podcast is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the presenter and interviewees, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS. ICIS is organising regular updates to help the industry understand current market trends. Register here. Read the latest issue of ICIS Chemical Business. Read Paul Hodges and John Richardson's ICIS blogs.

17-Apr-2024

PODCAST: Asia recycled polymers slow in 2023; legislation, waste management to shape future

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia recycled polymers markets were sluggish for the most part in 2023. In early 2024 too, challenges that dim the short-term outlook persist. Some legislations surrounding recycling were also put in place in the region over the last few years, but the obstacles that limit the growth of this sector still remain. In this chemical podcast, ICIS senior editor Arianne Perez and analysts Joshua Tan and Chua Xin Nee share their insights on the topic.

17-Apr-2024

Singapore March petrochemical exports fall 3.6%; NODX slumps 20.7%

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Singapore's petrochemical shipments in March fell by 3.6% year on year to Singapore dollar (S$) 1.16 billion ($853 million), extending the 2% contraction in the previous month and weighing on overall non-oil domestic exports (NODX), official data showed on Wednesday. March non-electronic NODX down 23.2% year on year March manufacturing PMIs show continued expansion Singapore economy forecast to grow 1.0-3.0% in 2024 Overall exports of chemicals and chemical products in March fell by 37% year on year to S$3.54 billion, reversing the 5.8% expansion in February, Enterprise Singapore said in a statement. The country's NODX for the month fell by 20.7% – a much steeper decline from February’s 0.2% contraction – to S$14 billion because of a high base a year ago, with shipments to most major trading partners posting declines. March non-electronic NODX, which includes petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, fell by 23.2% year on year to S$11.2 billion. Overall NODX to seven out of Singapore's top 10 markets fell in March, but shipments to Hong Kong, Taiwan and China rose. Singapore is a major manufacturer and exporter of petrochemicals in southeast Asia. Its petrochemicals hub Jurong Island houses more than 100 global chemical firms, including energy majors ExxonMobil and Shell. In the first quarter, the country’s economy grew by 2.7% year on year in the first quarter, accelerating slightly from the 2.2% expansion in the preceding quarter, according to official advance estimates. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, Singapore’s economy expanded by 0.1%, extending the 1.2% expansion in Q4. The manufacturing sector in Q1 grew by 0.8% year on year, moderating from the 1.4% expansion in the previous quarter. "Within the sector, output expansions in the chemicals, precision engineering and transport engineering clusters more than offset output contractions in the electronics, biomedical manufacturing and general manufacturing clusters," the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said. For the whole of 2024, Singapore's economy is expected to expand by 1.0-3.0%, compared with actual GDP growth of 1.1% growth in 2023, the ministry said. Manufacturing activity in Singapore improved in March, with the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM) purchasing managers' index (PMI) inching up to 50.7, marking the seventh straight month of expansion. In contrast, a separate survey of private manufacturers by financial information and services provider S&P Global showed Singapore’s March PMI eased to 55.7 from 56.8 in February. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: Singapore harbour and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, 16 March 2023. (Franz Neumeier/imageBROKER/Shutterstock) ($1 = S$1.36)

17-Apr-2024

Japan Mar chemical exports rise 3.9% as yen continues to weaken

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Japan's chemical exports rose by 3.9% year on year to yen (Y) 1.03 trillion in March, supported by higher plastic materials shipments abroad, amid the continued weakness of the yen, official data showed on Wednesday. The country's exports of plastic materials rose by 19.3% year on year to Y297 billion in March, Ministry of Finance (MOF) data showed. By volume, exports of plastic materials rose by 7.6% year on year to 513,959 tonnes. Shipments of organic chemicals, meanwhile, slipped by 2.2% year on year to Y199.4 billion in March. Exports of motor vehicles rose by 15.8% year on year to Y1.5 trillion in March, while shipments of motor vehicle parts were up by 3.7% at Y349 billion. Japan's overall exports rose by 7.3% year on year to Y9.47 trillion in March, up for the fourth straight month, while imports were down by 4.9% at Y9.1 trillion. This resulted in a trade surplus of around Y366 billion, the first in three months and reversing the around Y378 billion deficit recorded in February this year. By destination, Japan's overall exports to the US rose by 8.5% year on year while those to China were up by 12.6%. WEAK YEN PROVIDES TAILWIND FOR EXPORTSThe March trade data follows the yen sinking hit 34-year lows to the dollar beyond 154 yen this week as hopes of quick US interest rates receded amid persistent inflation. US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, speaking at the Washington Forum on the Canadian Economy on 16 April, said the US economy has not seen inflation come back to the central bank’s goal, pointing to the further unlikelihood that interest rate cuts are in the offing anytime soon. At 01:33 GMT, the yen was trading at 154.62 to the dollar. The US dollar extended gains on 16 April, with the US Dollar Index (DXY) rising to highs of 106.51 before closing around 106.06. Higher interest rates in the US make dollar-denominated assets more attractive due to higher yields compared to Japanese assets. Japan's finance minister Shunichi Suzuki on 16 April said that he is closely monitoring the yen's depreciation and are ready to implement all necessary measures to address the situation if needed. Japanese authorities intervened in the currency market in 2022 to purchase the yen on three occasions. "Jawboning from officials appeared to be an everyday affair with markets largely ignoring them for now as the move higher appears to be in line with recent market developments – higher US treasury yields while the Bank of Japan is still perceived to normalise slowly," Singapore-based OCBC Global Markets Research said in a note. The Bank of Japan on 19 March ended eight years of negative rates, ending the country’s historic era of negative interest rates, but this has failed to stop the slide in the yen. In a statement announcing the policy change, the central bank said that the economy has “recovered moderately” and that it is “highly likely that wages will continue to increase steadily.” Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman

17-Apr-2024

LOGISTICS: Maersk to resume Panama Canal transits for OC1 service on 10 May

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global container shipping major Maersk will resume Panama Canal transits for its OC1 service beginning 10 May, ending its “two-loop” setup it established in January because of transit restrictions brought on by a persistent drought. Maersk ceased transiting the canal in January for the service connecting Asia-Pacific and the US East Coast and instead transported containers across Panama using railroads. The company said it is taking the action because of the onset of the rainy season in the region and after the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) added three more daily slots based on the present and projected water levels in Gatun Lake. The PCA said it is optimistic that traffic through the canal could return to normal in 2025 as current forecasts indicate that steady rainfall will arrive later this month and continue during the rainy season. The PCA said all future plans remain contingent on how much rainfall comes and water levels in Gatun Lake. Peter Sand, chief analyst at ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta, said he thinks there is still a long way to go before trade lanes via the Panama Canal become normal. “There may be projections for increased rainfall but at the moment they are just that – projections,” Sand said. “If water levels do not rise then it will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether Maersk can stick to this timeline.” Container ships and costs for shipping containers are relevant to the chemical industry because while most chemicals are liquids and are shipped in tankers, container ships transport polymers, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), which are shipped in pellets. Some liquid chemicals are also shipped on container ships using isotanks. Please see the Logistics: Impact on chemicals and energy topic page

16-Apr-2024

VIDEO: European gas insight outlook week 16

LONDON (ICIS)–Gas in Focus deputy editor Marta Del Buono talks about key drivers for the current weeks affecting European gas market: Increasing geopolitical tensions support European gas prices ICIS technical analysis also indicates bullish sentiment across commodities Below average temperatures and below solar generation in Germany add support

16-Apr-2024

France Chimie calls for sector support as crisis continues and structural changes limit investments

LONDON (ICIS)–Chemicals production growth in France could be limited to 1% in 2024 as many companies prepare to implement structural cost saving measures and limit investments for growth, the trade group France Chimie said on Tuesday. The industry in France is weakened by an “unprecedented crisis” as is the sector across Europe, it suggested, with basic chemicals, including petrochemicals and polymers, under intense pressure. The basic chemicals sector in France was dealt a blow last week with the ExxonMobil Chemical France decision to close its steam cracker and polymer units at its Gravenchon site in Port-Jerome-sur-Seine, in Normandy. The closures – following €500m of losses from the site since 2018 – will result in the loss of 677 jobs, ExxonMobil France said on 11 April. Chemicals production in France fell by 1% last year compared with a drop of 8% in Europe, France Chimie said. The number excludes pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals. France is a leader in industrial exports, fourth in terms of patent filings in Europe and has a growing workforce, the trade group added. The headline figure, however, does not reflect the deeper contraction in parts of the sector. Perfumes and cosmetics chemicals have grown 15% since 2021 while specialty chemicals output has contracted 4% compared to a -13% in Germany, France Chimie noted. Basic chemicals in France, on the other hand, are contracting at a similar rate to their counterparts in the rest of Europe. “These activities are suffering from a loss of competitiveness aggravated by the pressure from international competition that is not always subject to the same regulatory requirements, “ it said in a statement translated from French. France Chimie expects growth investments in chemicals in France to fall by 40% this year in favor of what it calls regulatory and maintenance investments growth of around 20%. The sector needs an ambitious EU industrial policy that is in line with the Green Deal objectives to restore industrial sovereignty and preserve high quality employment, it said. In France, France Chimie is pressing for the next regulation of nuclear power to preserve the attractiveness of competitive electricity prices. It wants to see the France 2030 plan allowing competition on equal terms with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) support in the US. It calls for the use of trade defence mechanisms to restore fair international competition; simplified and stabilized regulations adapted to merging sectors of the economy; and support for research competitiveness, particularly through France’s Research Tax Credit. "The chemical industry is waiting for strong measures from the European and French public authorities to restore its development momentum,” France Chimie president Frederic Gauchet said. “The objective is not only to contribute to the development of European sectors (battery, hydrogen, health, bio-based products, recycling, etc), but also to support our existing sites so that chemistry continues to contribute fully to a sovereign and decarbonized economy and preserves quality employment in France.” Focus article by Nigel Davis. Thumbnail photo: A plant operated by France's TotalEnergies in Antwerp, Belgium (Source: TotalEnergies)

16-Apr-2024

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