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Chemicals news

ExxonMobil to sell Fos–sur-Mer refinery in France

LONDON (ICIS)–ExxonMobil’s French affiliate, Esso SAF, plans to sell its Fos-Sur-Mer refinery near Marseille, France, along with fuel terminals in Toulouse and Villette, by the end of the year, officials announced on Thursday. The buyer is Rhone Energies, which is a consortium between oil and commodities trader Trafigura and Entara. About 310 Esso employees are expected to transfer to Rhone Energies. The sale is subject to regulatory and other approvals. Financial details were not disclosed. The sale of the refinery, which has a crude oil processing capacity of 7 million tonnes/year, is part of Esso's long-term strategy in France to maintain the competitiveness of its operations while guaranteeing continuity of supply to its customers in the south of France, it said. Esso will continue to supply the fuel market in southern France and the proposed sale will not impact its other activities in France, it added. Entara, which was established by former executives of Crossbridge Energy, will operate the Fos-sur-Mer refinery. Trafigura plans to enter into a minimum 10-year exclusive crude oil supply and product offtake agreement, ensuring that the refinery has a secure supply of on-demand feedstock at competitive costs and a reliable off-taker of refined products destined to the domestic market, it said. The refinery will continue to be an important contributor to energy security in the region and would benefit from Trafigura’s global trading and logistics network, said Ben Luckock, Global Head of Oil for Trafigura. Oil and petroleum products will continue to play an important role in supporting growing global energy demand during the transition currently underway to a low-carbon economy, Luckock added. Rhone Energies intends to invest in the sustainability of the site to reduce its carbon footprint while also investing in growth projects enabling further co-processing of biogenic feedstocks to produce renewable fuels. In related news, ExxonMobil Chemical France announced earlier on Thursday that it plans to close its chemical production at Gravenchon in Normandy in 2024, subject to relevant government approvals. That closure is entirely separate from the proposed sale of the refinery, officials said. Additional reporting by Nel Weddle Thumbnail photo: A worker walking past ExxonMobil’s Fos-sur-mer complex. Source: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA/Shutterstock

11-Apr-2024

ExxonMobil to close Gravenchon, France cracker and related derivative units in 2024

LONDON (ICIS)—ExxonMobil Chemical France has announced plans to close its chemical production at Gravenchon, in Normandy in France in 2024, subject to the relevant government approvals. According to a press release, the steamcracker and related derivatives units and logistics facilities will be shut down. The company said the site has lost more than €500 million since 2018 and despite efforts to improve the site’s economics, it remains uncompetitive. According to the ICIS Supply & Demand database, the cracker has the capacity to produce 425,000 tonnes/year of ethylene and 290,000 tonnes/year of propylene and was started up in 1967. A butadiene (BD) unit is also at the site and associated derivatives include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP). ExxonMobil's nearby Port Jerome refinery will continue to operate supplying fuels, lubricants, basestocks and asphalt. The closure will impact 677 jobs through 2025. ExxonMobil said this planned closure is entirely separate from the Esso S.A.F. announcement regarding its proposed sale of the Esso Fos-sur-Mer refinery and South France logistics assets. Charles Amyot, president of ExxonMobil companies in France said: “It has been a very difficult decision for us to take, but we cannot continue to operate at such a loss.” This week Saudi Arabia's Sabic also revealed plans to permanently close its Olefins 3 cracker – one of two at their Geleen, Netherlands site.

11-Apr-2024

PODCAST: Walls go up around the world against China chemicals exports

BARCELONA (ICIS)–Governments around the world are accelerating moves to impose anti-dumping duties as China ramps up exports of excess chemicals capacities. – New wave of chemicals anti-dumping investigations against China – Led by EU, US, India, Brazil, South Korea – China exporting more excess chemicals and other industrial products – China imports an added burden for struggling chemical companies in Europe – More trade barriers could drive deglobalization of chemical markets – China, Japan and India rely heavily on exports to fuel their economies In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews 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.

10-Apr-2024

INVISTA to explore alternatives for nylon fibers business

HOUSTON (ICIS)–INVISTA plans to explore strategic alternatives for its nylon fibers business and has engaged Barclays as exclusive financial advisor during the exploration process, the US-based manufacturer of chemical intermediates, polymers and fibers said in a statement late on Tuesday. The nylon fibers business includes: INVISTA’s fiber-focused portfolio: airbag and industrial fibers The CORDURA businesses Five supporting global manufacturing locations: Seaford, Delaware and Martinsville, Virginia, both in the US; Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Gloucester, UK; and Qingpu, China INVISTA believes that there are other companies with a different focus and capabilities that could create greater value with those assets, said CEO Francis Murphy. If, however, through the process INVISTA finds that other companies do not value the nylon business more highly, it will continue to operate it, Murphy said. If INVISTA proceeds with a transaction, it would also result in a simplification and strengthened focus on its long-term competitive positions in the upstream nylon and propylene value chain businesses, it said. The nylon fiber assets are a major part of the current INVISTA footprint, “and it would be premature to speculate on the final structure of a potential deal”, it said, adding that details of the business and exploration process are confidential. Regardless of a potential transaction to divest its nylon fibers business, INVISTA will continue to supply its global nylon and propylene value chain customers with intermediates, polymers and specialty chemicals, the company said. Photo source: Attapon Thana/Shutterstock

10-Apr-2024

BLOG: Oil and financial markets start to wake up to geopolitical reality

LONDON (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Chemicals & The Economy by Paul Hodges, which looks at how geopolitics are now driving oil markets. Editor’s note: This blog post is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS. Paul Hodges is the chairman of consultants New Normal Consulting.

10-Apr-2024

‘Extremely active’ 2024 Atlantic hurricane season could mirror 2020, threaten US Gulf chem production

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The 2024 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be extremely active, and has similar characteristics to the 2020 season, meaning it could threaten offshore oil and natural gas production in the US Gulf and chemical producers along the Gulf Coast. Source: Colorado State University (CSU)  A report late last week from researchers at CSU follows a report released on 27 March by US meteorology firm AccuWeather that also predicted an active hurricane season. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will issue its first seasonal hurricane report in late May. So far, the CSU team said it is seeing similar characteristics to hurricane seasons in 1998, 2010 and 2020. The 2020 season saw 30 named storms, of which 13 became hurricanes and six of those were major storms. Storms in 2020 that impacted chemical operations included: Tropical Storm Marco hit Louisiana on 24 August. Days later, Hurricane Laura made landfall as a powerful category 4 storm in Louisiana near the border of Texas. Then, Hurricane Sally made landfall on 16 September in Alabama as a category 2 storm, followed by Tropical Storm Beta which made landfall less than a week later in Texas. Hurricane Delta followed a similar path as Hurricane Laura, making landfall on 9 October as a category 2 storm in Louisiana. Weeks later, Hurricane Zeta hit Cocodrie, Louisiana, as a category 2 storm. Hurricane Laura knocked 16% of total US ethylene capacity and 11% of total US propylene capacity offline, according to the ICIS Supply and Demand Database. About 18% of polyethylene (PE) production was offline, and 26% of polypropylene (PP) production was offline. Styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), a synthetic rubber used to make tires, had 46% of its US capacity offline. The CSU team said record warm tropical and eastern subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are the primary factor for the active season prediction. “When waters in the eastern and central tropical and subtropical Atlantic are much warmer than normal in the spring, it tends to force a weaker subtropical high and associated weaker winds blowing across the tropical Atlantic,” researchers said. “These conditions will likely lead to a continuation of well above-average water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic for the peak of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season.” Warm ocean waters serve as the fuel source for hurricanes, the CSU team said. “In addition, a warm Atlantic leads to lower atmospheric pressure and a more unstable atmosphere,” they said. “Both conditions favor hurricanes.” The current El Nino is likely to transition to a La Nina by the peak of the season – from August to October. Hurricane season begins on 1 June and runs through the end of November. Hurricanes and tropical storms can disrupt the North American petrochemical industry, because oil and gas production are concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, many of the nation's refineries and petrochemical plants are along the US Gulf Coast in the states of Texas and Louisiana. Even the threat of a major storm can disrupt oil and natural gas production, because companies must evacuate US Gulf platforms as a precaution. Thumbnail image shows a weather satellite orbiting over a hurricane. Photo by John Pulsipher/image from Shutterstock

08-Apr-2024

Latin America stories: weekly summary

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Here are some of the stories from ICIS Latin America for the week ended on 5 April. NEWS Mexico’s automotive output falls nearly 13% in March Mexico’s automotive sector output fell by 12.75% in March, month on month, to just over 300,000 units, the country’s statistical office Inegi said on Wednesday. Sanitation framework, nascent LatAm lithium industry keeping Brazil’s chloralkali afloat – Abiclor Brazil’s chlorine and caustic soda sectors have kept afloat in better health than the wider chemicals industry as sanitation plans and new lithium exploitations across Latin America keep demand high, according to the director general at the country’s trade group Abiclor. Brazil’s chemicals, industrial output falls in February Brazil’s chemicals output fell in February by 3.5%, month on month, one of the largest falls among the subsectors measured, the country’s statistical office IBGE said on Wednesday. Petrobras ‘proactively’ engaging with Federal auditor about tolling contract with Unigel Petrobras continues to “clarify in a timely manner” all the information requested by the Federal auditor regarding its tolling contract with Unigel, a spokesperson for the Brazilian energy major said to ICIS on Tuesday. Brazil’s Unigel postpones Q4 results amid debt restructuring Unigel has postponed the publication of its Q4 and 2023 financial results as its debt restructuring is ongoing, the Brazilian chemicals and fertilizers producer said on Tuesday. MOVES: Brazil’s Unipar appoints Alexandre Jerussalmy as CFO Unipar has appointed Alexandre Jerussalmy as CFO and investor relations officer, effective immediately, the Brazilian chemicals producer said on Tuesday. Colombia’s manufacturing slows down in March on lower sales Colombia’s manufacturing output growth slowed down in March on the back of lower sales, although it marked its third month in expansion territory, analysts at S&P Global said on Monday. Brazil's manufacturing March output healthy on new orders, fueling job creation Brazil’s manufacturing continued expanding at pace in March on the back of a healthy new order book, prompting firms to increase workforces, S&P Global said on Monday. Mexico’s manufacturing steady in March but subdued US demand causes concern Mexico’s manufacturing output stayed stable in March but firms are getting increasingly worried about lower demand from the US, the key market for the country’s export-intensive manufacturers, analysts at S&P Global said on Monday. PRICING Lat Am PP domestic prices down in Argentina, Mexico on lower US PGP spot prices, weak demand Domestic polypropylene (PP) prices dropped in Argentina and Mexico on the back of lower US spot propylene prices and weak demand. In other Latin American countries, prices remained steady. LatAm PE international prices steady to lower on lower US export offers International polyethylene (PE) prices were assessed as steady to lower on the back of lower US export offers. Ethanol prices in Brazil experiencing surges during April The prices of hydrous ethanol surged during the initial week of April, propelled by consistent strong sales in Brazil. Unigel to raise PS April prices in Brazil Unigel is seeking an 11% price increase on all grades of polystyrene (PS) sold in Brazil starting on 1 April, according to a customer letter. Innova seeks April PS price increase in Brazil Innova is seeking a real (R) 1,000/tonne ($200/tonne) price increase, excluding local taxes, on all grades of polystyrene (PS) sold in Brazil starting on 1 April, according to a customer letter.

08-Apr-2024

Finland's Neste to supply renewable feedstock to Korea’s Lotte Chemical

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Neste will be supplying renewable feedstock to South Korea’s Lotte Chemical for the production of polymers and chemicals, the Finland-based refiner said on Monday. "Lotte Chemical will use Neste RE at the company’s Korean sites to produce various common types of plastics and chemicals in Lotte Chemical’s broad product portfolio," it said in a statement. "With chemicals and plastics still largely depending on fossil resources, both companies see an urgent need to make a switch to more sustainable alternatives." Neste RE is a ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification)-certified feedstock for polymers and chemicals made from renewable raw materials such as waste and residue oil and fats. Financial details and timeline of the collaboration were not disclosed.

08-Apr-2024

LOGISTICS: Asia-US container rates slide; USACE plans to open Baltimore port by 1 May

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Rates for shipping containers from east Asia and China to the US continue to slide, liquid chem tanker rates surged from the US Gulf to Europe and Asia, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) plans to open the Port of Baltimore by the end of the month after the Francis Scott Key bridge collapsed on 26 March, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. PORT OF BALTIMORE US President Joe Biden toured the site on Friday and noted that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has announced a plan to have the channel open by the end of April. “In collaboration with industry partners, USACE expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep,” USACE said on Thursday. “This channel would support one-way traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore for barge container service and some roll on/roll off vessels that move automobiles and farm equipment to and from the port.” USACE engineers are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity. While not a big hub for chemical imports/exports, the closure of the Port of Baltimore because of the bridge collapse will have some ripple effects for logistics in the region. US-based catalyst producer WR Grace said operations at its Curtis Bay Manufacturing site, located to the northwest of the collapsed bridge, have been unaffected despite its proximity to the accident site. Chemicals make up only about 4% of total tonnage that moves through the port, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The ACC said less than 1% of all chemicals involved in waterborne commerce, both domestic and trade volumes, pass through Baltimore. The value of chems that pass through the port is significant, the ACC said, totaling $954 million in 2023, which averages about $3 million/day or $18 million/week. CONTAINER RATES CONTINUE TO SLIDE Rates for shipping containers from Asia to the US continue to fall, in line with the decline in average global rates. The following charts from supply chain advisors Drewry show the decrease in average global rates and from Shanghai to the US and Europe. Judah Levine, head of research at online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos, said rates could be nearing “a diversion-adjusted floor”. “Decreases from January/February peaks on the impacted ex-Asia lanes have slowed in recent weeks, and recent rate announcements by some carriers suggest they are hoping to keep rates at the $3,000-$3,500/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit) level to Europe and $3,500-$4,300/FEU level to the Mediterranean this month,” Levine said. LIQUID TANKER RATES SURGE US chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS rose this week on the major trade lanes – from the US Gulf (USG) to ARA and to Asia. For larger parcels, spot rates ticked higher to both regions as several outside vessels have expressed interest to come on berth for this route in April and for May. This in turn, has curbed the rates from rising any further and somewhat modest. Premiums for discharge in China have also closed the gap on main port rates, as China’s activity buying glycol has picked up. From the USG to Rotterdam also has strengthened following the recent Easter holiday, as strong interest in EDC has been seen in the market. There has been activity on the spot market, but owners are still working with COA customers to finalize their needs before committing to others. PANAMA CANAL Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit fell to below one day in both directions this week, according to the PCA's vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times last week were 2.7 days for northbound traffic and four days for southbound traffic. Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan

05-Apr-2024

Oil at six-month highs; Brent crude at above $91/bbl on Mideast tensions

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Oil prices were extending gains, with Brent crude hitting past the $91/barrel mark on Friday, fueled by escalating geopolitical tensions in the Middle East which could disrupt supply amid output cuts by OPEC and its allies (OPEC+). Prices looked set for a second weekly gain, with both contracts closing overnight at their highest since October 2023 following news reports that Israeli embassies are under threat of Iranian counterattacks. ($/bbl) Contract Low High Open Last (at 02:53 GMT) Previous Settlement Change Brent June 90.86 91.22 91.21 90.96 90.65 0.31 WTI May 86.64 87.07 86.86 86.72 86.59 0.13 On 4 April, Brent futures for June rose above $91/bbl before settling at $90.65/bbl, up by 1.5% from the previous session. Signs that production cuts by OPEC+ are tightening supplies amid robust global demand have been driving up crude prices in recent weeks, offsetting concerns that the US Federal Reserve will delay its interest rate cuts. The Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) of OPEC+ met on 1 April recommended no change to the group’s output policy, which will keep the market in supply deficit through the second quarter. The meeting appears to have focused on compliance with supply cuts, with members which have overproduced in the first quarter set to submit compensation plans on how to achieve production cut targets by the end of April. The next JMMC meeting will be held on 1 June. Iran, OPEC's third-largest producer, has pledged retaliation against Israel as high-ranking military officials were killed on 1 April in an air strike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria. Israel has not taken responsibility for the strike. The US has imposed new Iran-related counterterrorism sanctions against Oceanlink Maritime DMCC and its vessels, the Treasury Department said on 4 April. The Oceanlink Maritime DMCC-managed vessel Hecate recently loaded Iranian commodities valued at over $100 million via a ship-to-ship transfer from another sanctioned tanker, the Dover, on behalf of Iran’s Sepehr Energy Jahan Nama Pars (Sepehr Energy), it said. Sepehr Energy was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in November 2023 for its role selling Iranian commodities, it said. In a marked shift, the US issued on 4 April its most forceful public condemnation of Israel since the start of its war with Hamas, warning that US policy on Gaza will hinge on Israel's actions to prioritize the safety of Palestinian civilians and aid workers. Remarks from US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell on 3 April unsettled investors after signaling that the Fed has time to assess data and it needs clearer signs of lower inflation before cutting interest rates, adding that recent strong US economic figures did not materially change the overall picture. A Fed rate cut is widely expected in June, but Powell indicated a necessity for further data before initiating any reductions. "The prospect of rate cuts amid a mid-cycle slowdown has fuelled optimism about the global economy," Australia-headquartered ANZ bank said in a note. "More importantly, an improvement in economic data in China has boosted sentiment and lifted expectations around crude oil demand." Both China and the US posted manufacturing growth in March, marking the first time in six months for China and one-and-a-half years for the US. This growth is expected to boost oil demand this year, especially since the US is the largest consumer of crude oil and China is the largest importer, researchers at Mint Finance said in a note for investment research and analysis firm Smartkarma. "With prospects of global oil demand improving, concerns over oil supply have intensified due to escalating conflicts in key oil-producing regions. This escalation will further tighten oil supply-demand dynamic, pushing prices higher." Investors are now eyeing the deadline for US sanctions relief on OPEC member Venezuela which ends on 18 April for further direction. If the US does not re-impose sanctions, Venezuela’s output could surpass the 1 million barrel/day threshold as early as December this year, rising to 1.12 million barrel/day by the end of 2025. If sanctions are re-imposed, production is expected to remain flat at about 890,000 barrels per day. “There are myriad arguments for and against reimposing sanctions, so the path that the US [takes] remains uncertain,” Rystad Energy’s senior vice president, Jorge Leon, said in a note. The sanctions on Venezuela were initially removed in exchange for the promise of fair and free, internationally-monitored elections in 2024. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: Rescuers work near the destroyed consulate building of the Iranian embassy in Damascus, Syria, on 1 April 2024. (Xinhua/Shutterstock)

05-Apr-2024

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