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Discover the factors influencing xylenes markets

Xylenes prices and demand can change in an instant. As a by-product of oil refining, petrochemical production and coke fuel manufacturing, these chemicals are highly dependent on upstream markets. Likewise, xylenes demand fluctuates rapidly in downstream markets as they are used in a variety of processes.

Xylenes are split into four main components, isomer grade mixed xylenes (MX), solvent grade xylenes, para-xylenes (PX) and orthoxylenes (OX). Solvent xylenes are used as solvents in the printing, rubber and leather industries as well as cleaning agents, thinners for paints and in agricultural sprays. The primary use of mixed xylenes is as an octane booster for transportation fuels. Xylenes are also one of the precursors of the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyester fibre. OX is largely used for the production of phthalic anhydride (PA) markets.

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INSIGHT: Q1 2024 US imports of plastic scrap remain strong on cost savings opportunities

HOUSTON (ICIS)–US plastic scrap trade continues to show robust import activity amid flat export volumes in the first quarter. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic scrap in particular continues to see strong growth in import and export volumes despite domestic recyclers citing only moderate-to-weak demand. This is likely due to the wide window of arbitrage for recycled flake and pellet resin into the US. On the other hand, US PET bale prices have minimally improved following last year's market crash, creating export opportunities to other global destinations. US remains a net importer of plastic scrap US PET scrap imported increased 88% Q1 2024 vs Q1 2023 US PET scrap exported increased 33% Q1 2024 vs Q4 2023 Q1 2024 trade data from the US Census Bureau shows US imports of plastic scrap – noted by the HS code 3915 – remain strong, having dropped only 2% quarter on quarter, but having jumped 38% year on year when comparing with Q1 2023. Exports on the other hand were nearly identical quarter on quarter, having leveled off over the last several quarters around 100,000 tonnes. US plastic scrap imports totaled 127,176 tonnes in Q1 2024, marking it the strongest first quarter in the last 10 years, and only the second strongest quarter ever, following Q4 of last year. Plastic scrap imports include items such as used bottles, but also other forms of recycled feedstock such as purge, leftover pairings and now also flake material. PET SCRAP IMPORTS CONTINUE RECORD PACEPET in particular continued to see growth in imported scrap volumes, increasing 88% year on year. PET scrap now constitutes nearly 50% of all US imported plastic scrap, followed by the "other" plastic scrap category at 29% and polyethylene (PE) scrap at 14%. Overall plastic scrap imports from Mexico continued to drop, down both year on year and quarter on quarter, largely driven by declines in PET scrap imports. Canada on the other hand increased year on year but declined quarter on quarter with the broader volume trend. Together, plastic scrap coming from Canada and Mexico continues to constitute nearly half (46%) of US plastic scrap imports. Material from Thailand comes in as the third largest region for US plastic scrap imports at 7% of the total volume. When considering just PET scrap, Thailand continued their strong growth trajectory with nearly identical volumes to Q4 2023. US PET scrap imports from Thailand in Q1 2024 increased 82% year on year. Despite this growth, Canada still sends the largest volume of PET scrap to the US at 11,960 tonnes in Q1 2024. When considering other countries, PET imports from Asian-based countries now makes up over 40% of the total PET scrap import volume, passing up Canada and Mexico at a combined 21%. Market participants confirm they have seen a notable rise in imported recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) activity from Asia and Latin America, particularly due to their cost-competitive position when it comes to feedstock, labor and facility costs in light of cheaper ocean freight rates. Though, other regions may not always be in a cost-competitive position, as most recently seen in South American countries like Peru and Colombia, where local bale prices have increased significantly, while US feedstock prices remain relatively stable. Supporting the increase in imported scrap plastic, US recyclers who continue to have strong order volumes were heard to be supplementing their operations with imported feedstock. Several recyclers now purchase low-cost spot or imported R-PET flake to process into their food-grade pellet product and redirect their internally produced flake from high-cost domestic bale feedstock to sell directly to customers. This in turn has alleviated pressure from US PET bales, thus enabling price stability for pellet material which is formulated to US bale feedstock costs. In the long term, the US will seek imports of bale or flake feedstock not just due to the cost driver but to feed growing plastic recycling capacities amid stagnant plastic collection rates domestically. PET SCRAP EXPORTS TO MEXICO ACCELERATEUnlike many other polymer types which continue to see declining volumes following the Chinese National Sword and Basel Convention adoption several years ago, exports of PET scrap have increased, as many global regions with growing R-PET capacities see a cost-play opportunity. PET scrap exports, which could include PET bales, rose 33% quarter on quarter and 21% year on year, coming in at 21,662 tonnes in Q1 2024. Specifically, exported PET scrap to Mexico increased 38% year on year, making up 61% of all US PET scrap exports. At present, aggressive buying activity from Mexican recyclers continues to drive up West Coast PET bale prices. Exports to Mexico have always made up a small portion of US PET bale sales from southern California or states like Texas, though the current activity has been notably strong. PE SCRAP TRADE REMAINS ROBUSTPE continues to be a leading polymer type for US plastic scrap exports, coming in at 35,359 tonnes in Q1 2024. Of that volume, India is the largest destination at 25%, followed by Malaysia and Canada tied at 16%. On the other hand, PE scrap imports show mixed trends. While Canada and Mexico continue to make up nearly 75% of imported PE scrap volumes, US imports from Mexico increased 24% quarter on quarter. On the other hand, imports from Canada decreased 40% quarter on quarter. This time last year, India did not export any PE scrap to the US, and now is the third largest per Q1 data.


LOGISTICS: Global container rates surge, chem tanker rates mixed, Panama Canal wait times ease

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global rates for shipping containers are surging, liquid chemical tanker rates were mixed, and wait times at the Panama Canal have eased, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINER RATES Container rates surged this week after rising last week for the first time since January amid general rate increases (GRIs) implemented because of rising demand and as continued Red Sea diversions have overall capacity fully deployed. Maersk CEO Vincent Clerc said during a Q1 earnings conference call that demand is trending toward the higher end of its guidance. Average global rates surged by 16% over the week, according to supply chain advisors Drewry and as shown in the following chart. Meanwhile, rates from Shanghai to the US West Coast jumped by 18%, and rates from Shanghai to the East Coast soared by 16%, as shown in the following chart. Drewry expects freight rates ex-China to continue increasing in the upcoming week amid a huge demand spike and tight capacity. Capacity is growing from newly built ships, according to international freight platform ShipHub, who said that 2.83m 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container ship capacity is on order for 2024, after 2.34m TEUs were ordered in 2023. That is almost double the capacity added in 2021 and 2022, which were both around 1.1m TEUs. Shipping analysts Linerlytica said that over-capacity concerns are on the backburner with containership diversions to the Cape route effectively removing more than 7% of the total fleet. Rates from North China to the US Gulf were flat this week after spiking the previous week, as shown in the following chart from ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta. 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), are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. LIQUID CHEM TANKER RATES US chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS were mostly unchanged but fell from the US Gulf (USG) to ARA. From the USG to Rotterdam, there are bits of part cargo space still available for April. This trade lane has been mostly quiet over the last few weeks. If this trend continues, this route could face further downward pressure. On the other hand, from the USG to the Caribbean, rates have risen slightly since last week leaving the market overall mixed. Methanol continues to be active out of this market to various destinations. From the USG to Brazil, space remains tight despite the slow market as only a handful of indications being seen in the market.  Space is available for H1 May out of Columbia and H2 May out of the USG. Although ICIS does not assess spot rates from the USG to the Mediterranean, this trade lane has continued to tighten up, with several cargoes of Glycols, Caustic and Veg Oil fixed. There is limited space for May which may likely cause rates to further tighten, although there could be some working space for June. PANAMA CANAL Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit fell for both northbound and southbound transits this week, according to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times a week ago were 4.4 days for northbound traffic and 6.5 days for southbound vessels. The PCA will increase the number of slots available for Panamax vessels to transit the waterway beginning 16 May and will add another slot for Neopanamax vessels on 1 June based on the present and projected water levels in Gatun Lake. PORT OF BALTIMORE The Key Bridge Response Unified Command (UC) is scheduled to use precision cuts made with small charges to remove a large section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage from on top of the container ship Dali, which struck the bridge on 26 March and caused its collapse. Source: Key Bridge Response 2024 The exact time of the precision cuts will depend on multiple environmental and operational factors. The closing of the port did not have a significant impact on the chemicals industry as 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. Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan


Brazil’s Braskem deliveries safe despite Triunfo shutdown taking off third of capacity – CFO

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Braskem will be able to deliver material to its customers from its other three sites in Brazil after it declared force majeure at its Triunfo complex following heaving flooding in the area, Brazilian polymers major CFO Pedro Freitas said on Thursday. Freitas did not clarify when the company expects its facilities in Triunfo, state of Rio Grande do Sul, could return to operations as the area reels from floods which started on 29 April. Freitas said Braskem’s facilities there – which account for 30% of its production capacity in Brazil – were not directly affected by the flooding, but the company is founding difficulties in transport to and from the complex. The floods in Rio do Grande do Sul, Brazil’s worst in 80 years, have caused widespread road blockages, landslides and a dam collapse. “The blockages made our operations inviable. Our assets are 100% safe and were not affected, but we are having difficulties with transport: from the coaches transporting our employees to the trucks taking material out,” said Freitas. “We contemplated bringing employees in by helicopter, but that wasn’t viable in for an extended period to keep operations running. In those conditions, we decided to stop operations in a safe and controlled manner.” The CFO was speaking to reporters and chemical equity analysts on Thursday following the publication of Braskem’s Q1 financial results. Despite Freitas’ assurances, the company only produces some polyethylene (PE) grades at its Triunfo facilities, and ⁠sources have said supply of products such as high density polyethylene (HDPE) and low density polyethylene (LDPE) could tighten in the force majeure goes on for an extended period. The same happens for some polypropylene (PP) products. In Brazil, Braskem is the sole manufacturer of PE and PP. Its market shares in 2023 were about 56% and 70%, respectively, according to figures from the ICIS Supply & Demand Database (SNDD). Brazil’s PP capacity is nearly 2 million tonnes/year, while PE capacity is about 3 million tonnes/year, of which 41% is HDPE, 33% is linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and 26% is LDPE. The Triunfo complex can produce 740,000 tonnes/year of PP, 550,000 tonnes/year of HDPE, 385,000 tonnes/year of LDPE and 300,000 tonnes/year of LLDPE. Triunfo PP capacity accounts for nearly 37% of Brazil’s PP capacity, while PE capacity accounts for about 40%. Difficulties in transport of employees at the Triunfo petrochemicals hub has also been the main reason for other chemicals companies in the complex such Innova and Arlanxeo to declare force majeure from their facilities. RAINS RETURN Rio Grande do Sul’s floods have brought the state to a standstill and, to make matters worse, rains returned on Wednesday, 8 May and forced some rescue operations for the more than 100,000 residents displaced to be suspended. In those conditions, Freitas would not venture in forecasting when the Triunfo complex could return to operations. “It could be some days still [to return to normal operations], perhaps more than a week. But with the rain back, we cannot really forecast when it will be,” said Freitas. “But we are optimising our sales from our other sites in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Bahia.” RECOVERY AT LAST? Braskem’s CEO, Roberto Bischoff, also present at the press conference, concluded saying that Braskem’s improved earnings during Q1 were the sign that things were improving for the company and Brazil’s chemicals producer generally. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) improved both year on year and quarter on quarter, although sales posted a more mixed result while the company posted again a net loss for the quarter. Braskem (in $ million) Q1 2024 Q1 2023 Change Q4 2023 Change Q1 vs Q4 Sales 3,618 3,743 -3% 3,369 7% EBITDA 230 205 12% 211 9% Net profit/loss -273 35 N/A -317 -14% “We are seeing better spreads in petrochemicals. After the efforts by the company to improve our financial resilience, we expect the results of that will continue showing for the rest of 2024,” concluded the CEO. Front page picture: Braskem's facilities in Triunfo, Brazil (Source: Braskem) With additional reporting by Bruno Menini


Saudi Aramco Q1 net income falls amid weaker refining, chemicals margins

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Saudi Aramco's net income fell by 14.4% year on year to Saudi riyal (SR) 102.3 billion in the first quarter amid lower crude oil volumes and weakening downstream margins, the energy giant said on Tuesday. in SR billions Q1 2024 Q1 2023 % Change Sales 402.04 417.46 -3.7 Operational Profit 202.05 222.18 -9.1 Net profit 102.27 119.54 -14.4 Early this year, Saudi Arabia’s government ordered Aramco to halt its oil expansion plan and to target a maximum sustained production capacity of 12m barrels/day, 1m barrels/day below the target announced in 2020. In the first quarter, Aramco's downstream income before interest, income taxes and zakat (annual Islamic tax) slumped by 64% year on year to SR4.62 billion. The drop in downstream earnings reflects weakening refining and chemicals margins, partially offset by inventory valuation movement, it said. The drop in group earnings was partially offset by lower production royalties, an increase in crude oil prices compared to the same period last year and lower income taxes and zakat. Despite having a capacity of 12 million barrels/day, Saudi Arabia currently produces about 9 million barrels/day as part of production cuts initiated by OPEC and its allies in October 2022 and further voluntary cuts by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ members in April 2023, all designed to stabilize oil prices. Following an OPEC+ meeting in June 2023, Saudi Arabia – the world's top crude exporter – announced a further oil production cut of 1 million barrels/day. “Looking ahead, I expect our portfolio to continue to evolve as we aim to contribute to an energy transition that offers solutions to climate challenges, but at the same time recognizes the need for affordable, reliable, and flexible energy supplies," added Amin Nasser, Aramco's President and CEO. Aramco's chemicals arm SABIC and China's Fujian Energy and Petrochemical Group Co held a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction at the SABIC Fujian Petrochemical Complex in China's Fujian province during the first quarter. The project will include a mixed-feed steam cracker with up to 1.8m tonne/year ethylene (C2) capacity and various downstream units producing ethylene glycols (EG), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polycarbonate (PC), among other products. Thumbnail photo : One of Aramco's US offices (Source: Saudi Aramco)


SABIC Q1 net income falls 62%, warns of industry overcapacity

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–SABIC's net income fell by 62% year on year to Saudi Riyal (SR) 250 million in the first quarter amid a drop in prices and sales volumes, the chemicals major said late on Wednesday. Losses from discontinued operations continue to weigh on results Overcapacity persists, pressuring the industry as market growth lags – CEO Spending range of $4 billion to $5 billion expected for 2024 in Saudi riyal (SR) billions Q1 2024 Q1 2023 % Change Sales 32.69 36.43 -10 Operational profit 1.21 1.76 -31 Net income 0.25 0.66 -62 "The decrease in net profit is attributed to lower revenues, lower results from associates and joint ventures in addition to losses from discontinued operations," SABIC said in a filing on the Saudi bourse, Tadawul. SABIC swung to a net loss of Saudi riyal (SR) 2.77bn ($739m) in 2023, largely due to one-off losses related to a divestment. Q1 revenue fell following a 3% decline in average selling prices and a 7% reduction in sales quantities. "Global economic uncertainty remained high during the first quarter of 2024, caused by geopolitical and logistical issues. Adding to these challenges were high global inflation levels and strict lending policies," SABIC CEO Abdulrahman Al-Fageeh said in a separate statement. Al-Fageeh in an investor call cautioned that overcapacity remains a challenge for the industry, creating a gap between supply and demand that is likely to persist throughout 2024. While positive demand signals emerged in Q1 2024, "the year outlook remains uncertain as the world still navigates through geopolitical situations with high inflation", he said. SABIC plans to adopt a disciplined approach to capital expenditure, projecting a spending range of $4 billion to $5 billion for the year, compared with $3.5 billion to 3.8 billion last year. NEW PROJECTS SABIC has started construction of its $6.4bn manufacturing complex in China’s southern Fujian province. The project "would add a qualitative range of products to SABIC’s portfolio of chemicals and polymers and enhance the company's presence in the Chinese market", the company said. The project will include a mixed-feed steam cracker with up to 1.8m tonne/year ethylene (C2) capacity and various downstream units producing ethylene glycols (EG), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polycarbonate (PC), among other products. SABIC also inaugurated the world’s first large-scale electrically heated steam olefins cracking furnace in Netherlands, which will pave the way for the company to fulfill its commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. SABIC is 70%-owned by energy giant Saudi Aramco. ($1 = SR3.75) Thumbnail photo by SABIC Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman


Besieged by imports, Brazil’s chemicals put hopes on hefty import tariffs hike

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Brazilian chemicals producers are lobbying hard for an increase in import tariffs for key polymers and petrochemicals from 12.6% to 20%, and higher in cases, hoping the hike could slow down the influx of cheap imports, which have put them against the wall. For some products, Brazil’s chemicals trade group Abiquim, which represents producers, has made official requests for the import tariffs to go up to a hefty 35%, from 9% in some cases. On Tuesday, Abiquim said several of its member companies “are already talking about hibernating plants” due to unprofitable economics. It did so after it published another set of somber statistics for the first quarter, when imports continued entering Brazil em masse. Brazil’s government Chamber of Foreign Commerce (Camex) is concluding on Tuesday a public consultation about this, with its decision expected in coming weeks. Abiquim has been busy with the public consultation: it has made as many as 66 proposals for import tariffs to be hiked for several petrochemicals and fertilizers, including widely used polymers such polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS), or expandable PS (EPS), to mention just a few. Other chemicals trade groups, as well as companies, have also filed requests for import tariffs to be increased. In total, 110 import tariffs. HARD TO FIGHT OFFBrazil has always depended on imports to cover its internal chemicals demand, but the extraordinary low prices coming from competitors abroad has made Brazil’s chemicals plant to run with operating rates of 65% or lower. More and more, the country’s chemicals facilities are becoming white elephants which are far from their potential, as customers find in imported product more competitive pricing. Considering this dire situation and taking into account that the current government in Brasilia led by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva may be more receptive to their demands, Abiquim has put a good fight in publica and private for measure which could shore up chemical producers’ competitiveness. This could come after the government already hiked import tariffs on several products in 2023 and re-introduced a tax break, called REIQ, for some chemicals which had been withdrawn by the previous Administration. While Brazil’s chemicals production competitiveness is mostly affected by higher input costs, with natural gas costs on average five times higher than in the US, the industry is hopeful a helping hand from the government in the form of higher import tariffs could slow down the flow of imports into Brazil. As a ‘price taker region’ given its dependence on imports, Latin American domestic producers have taken a hit in the past two years. In Brazil, polymers major Braskem is Abiquim’s commanding voice. Abiquim, obviously, has always been very outspoken – even apocalyptic – about the fate of its members as they try to compete with overseas countries, namely China who has been sending abroad product at below cost of production. The priorities in China’s dictatorial system are not related to the balance of markets, but to keep employment levels stable so its citizens find fewer excuses to protest against the regime which keeps them oppressed. Capitalist market dynamics are for the rest of the world to balance; in China’s dictatorial, controlled-economy regime the priority is to make people feel the regime’s legitimacy can come from never-ending economic growth. The results of such a policy for the rest of the world – not just in chemicals but in all industrial goods – is becoming clear: unprofitable industries which cannot really compete with heavily subsidized Chinese players. The results of such a policy in China are yet to be seen, but subsiding at all costs any industry which creates employment may have debt-related lasting consequences: as they mantra goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Abiquim’s executive president urged Lula’s cabinet to look north, to the US, where the government has imposed hefty tariffs on almost all China-produced industrial goods or raw materials for manufacturing production. “[The hikes in import tariffs] have improved the US’ scenario: despite the aggressive advance in exports by Asian countries, the drop in US [chemicals] production in 2023 was of 1%, while in Brazil the index for production fell nearly by 10%,” said Andre Passos. “The country adopted an increase in import taxes of over 30% to defend its market from unfair competition. The taxation for some inputs, such as phenol, resins and adipic [acid], for example, exceeds three digits. “Here, we are suggesting an increase in rates to 20% in most claims … We need to have this breathing space for the industry to recover,” he concluded. As such, the figures for the first quarter showed no sign of imports into Brazil slowing down. The country posted a trade deficit $9.9 billion during the January-March period; the 12-month accumulated (April 2023 to March 2024) deficit stood at $44.7 billion. A record high of 61.2 million tonnes of chemicals products entered Brazil in Q1; in turn, the country’s industry exported 14.6 million tonnes. Abiquim proposals for higher import tariffs Product Current import tariff Proposed tariff Expandable polystyrene, unfilled, in primary form 12.6% 20% Other polystyrenes in primary forms 12.6% 20% Carboxymethylcellulose with content > =75%, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Other polyurethanes in liquids and pastes 12.6% 20% Phthalic anhydride 10.8% 20%  Sodium hydrogen carbonate (bicarbonate) 9% 35% Copolymers of ethylene and alpha-olefin, with a density of less than 0.94 12.6% 20% Other orthophthalic acid esters 11% 20% Other styrene polymers, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Other silicon dioxides 0% 18% Other polyesters in liquids and pastes  12.6% 20% Commercial ammonium carbonates and other ammonium carbonates 9% 18% Other unsaturated polyethers, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Polyethylene terephthalate, with a viscosity index of 78 ml/g or more 12.6% 20% Phosphoric acid with an iron content of less than 750 ppm 9% 18% Dinonyl or didecyl orthophthalates 11% 20% Poly(vinyl chloride), not mixed with other substances, obtained by suspension process 12.6% 20% Poly(vinyl chloride), not mixed with other substances, obtained by emulsion process 12.6% 20% Methyl polymethacrylate, in primary form  12.6% 20% White mineral oils (vaseline or paraffin oils) 4% 35% Other polyetherpolyols, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Other unfilled epoxy resins in primary forms 12.6% 20% Silicon dioxide obtained by chemical precipitation 9% 18% Acrylonitrile-butadiene rubber in plates, sheets, etc 11% 35% Other organic anionic surface agents, whether or not put up for retail sale, not classified under previous codes 12.6% 23% Phenol (hydroxybenzene) and its salts 7% 20% Fumaric acid, its salts and esters 10 ,8% 20% Plasticizers and plastics 10 ,8% 20% Maleic anhydride 10 ,8% 20% Adipic acid salts and esters 10 ,8% 20% Propylene copolymers, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Adipic acid 9% 20% Unfilled polypropylene, in primary form 12.6% 20% Filled polypropylene, in primary form 12.6% 20% Methacrylic acid methyl esters 10 ,8% 20% Other ethylene polymers, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Acrylic acid 2-ethylhexyl esters 0% 20% 2-Ethylexanoic acid (2-ethylexoic acid) 10. 8% 20% Other copolymers of ethylene and vinyl acetate, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Other unfilled polyethylenes, density >= 0.94, in primary forms 12.6% 20% Polyethylene with a density of less than 0.94, unfilled 12.6% 20% Other saturated acyclic monoalcohol acetates, c atom <= 8 10. 8% 20% Polyethylene with a density of less than 0.94, with filler 12.6% 20% Triacetin 10. 8% 20% Sodium methylate in methanol 12.6% 20% Stearic alcohol (industrial fatty alcohol) 12.6% 20% N-butyl acetate                              11% 20% Stearic acid (industrial monocarboxylic fatty acid) 5% 35% Alkylbenzene mixtures 11% 20% Organic, non-ionic surface agents 12.6% 23% Ammonium nitrate, whether or not in aqueous solution 0.0% 15% Monoethanolamine and its salts 12.6% 20% Isobutyl alcohol (2-methyl-1-propanol) 10.8% 20% Butan-1-ol (n-butyl alcohol) 10.8% 20% Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR), food grade as established by the Food Chemical Codex, in primary forms 10.8% 22% Styrene                                9% 18% Hexamethylenediamine and its salts 10.8% 20% Latex from other synthetic or artificial rubbers 10.8% 35% Propylene glycol (propane-1, 2-diol) 10.8% 20% Preparations 12.6% 20% Linear alkylbenzene sulfonic acids and their salts 12.6% 23% 4,4'-Isopropylidenediphenol (bisphenol A, diphenylolpropane) and its salts 10.8% 20% Dipropylene glycol 12.6% 20% Butanone (methyl ethyl ketone) 10.8% 20% Ethyl acetate                                 10.8% 20% Methyl-, ethyl- and propylcellulose, hydroxylated 0.0% 20% Front page picture: Chemical production facilities outside Sao Paulo  Source: Union of Chemical and Petrochemical industries in the state of Sao Paulo (Sinproquim) Focus article by Jonathan Lopez Additional information by Thais Matsuda and Bruno Menini


Asia top stories – weekly summary

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 26 April 2024. Thailand's SCG Q1 net profit slumps 85%; eyes better H2 conditions By Nurluqman Suratman 26-Apr-24 12:45 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Siam Cement Group (SCG) posted an 85% year-on-year decline in Q1 net profit on losses from chemicals operations, but the Thai conglomerate expects the segment’s earnings to recover in H2 on improved olefins demand and expected restart of its Vietnam petrochemical complex. China VAM exports jump; shipments to India surge in Q2 By Hwee Hwee Tan 25-Apr-24 13:42 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China's vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) spot offers have tumbled, boosting buying interest in its outbound cargoes, and lifting its exports to India to a multi-month high into the second quarter. SE Asia PE May offers mostly rangebound; demand still weak By Izham Ahmad 24-Apr-24 14:09 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Initial spot import offers for May shipments of polyethylene (PE) in southeast Asia were announced mostly rangebound so far in the week, while buying interest remained under pressure near recent lows. Saudi Aramco eyes stake in Hengli Petrochemical; prowls for more China investments By Fanny Zhang 23-Apr-24 14:13 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Saudi Aramco continues its quest for downstream petrochemical investments in the world’s second-biggest economy, adding Hengli Petrochemical in a list of target companies in which the global energy giant intends to acquire a strategic stake. PODCAST: Production constraints keep Asian BD spot trades buoyant in Q1, demand outlook mixed By Damini Dabholkar 22-Apr-24 17:35 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Persistent production constraints have driven Asia’s spot prices for butadiene (BD) to near two-year-high levels, but how the rally goes from here may hinge on downstream demand conditions. CHINAPLAS ’24: PODCAST: China PP exports strong, imports weak in Q1 By Sijia Li 22-Apr-24 16:23 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–ICIS analyst Sijia Li and senior industry analyst Joanne Wang discuss developments in China's polyolefins market.


LOGISTICS: Rates for shipping containers may be leveling off as increases emerge

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global shipping container rates are starting to moderate, the Panama Canal expects to increase transits in May, and liquid chemical tanker spot rates are mixed, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINER RATES Global shipping container rates are plateauing as shipowners have implemented blank sailings to control capacity and as some carriers have announced general rate increases (GRIs). Freight forwarder Flexport said in an update on 25 April that GRIs announced for ex-Asia westbound routes are expected to stick amid high utilization from carriers. Flexport noted three factors that supported the increases – a slight increase in demand because of the May labor holiday in China; reduced capacity from the increase in blank sailings; and increased congestion at ports and equipment challenges from certain carriers. Participants in the US polyethylene terephthalate (PET) told ICIS they are seeing higher freight costs as shipping in the Red Sea and now the Strait of Hormuz continues to be disrupted. Rate increases have also been announced for cargo heading to the Middle East region. Global container shipping major Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) announced $200/TEU (20-foot equivalent unit) effective 17 May for all cargo leaving the US and Puerto Rico going to the Middle East. Global container rates from supply chain advisors Drewry were flat this week, as shown in the following chart. Rates from North China to the US Gulf also held steady, although at levels higher than were seen in December before the attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, as shown in this chart from ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta. 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. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. LIQUID CHEM TANKERS US chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS were mixed this week with rates rising for parcels from the US Gulf (USG) to Brazil and India. However, rates from the USG to ARA decreased and all other trade lanes held steady. From the USG to Brazil, this trade lane has had limited availability for H1 May loading. However, mid and H2 May have showed a few more options with an outsider on berth currently to South America. This could place downward pressure on this route. Although COA nominations are still up in the air, a few regular owners hope to have more space and a broker says that time will tell when this space fills up. From the USG to Asia, regular players have said they are full on most of their positions through this time, which has placed some upward pressure on smaller parcels as it has become harder to find space for them. Currently, the USG to Asia market appears to be in a fragile balance between the interest in larger slugs, and the growing number of players looking for stainless steel vessels in the USG for May, according to a broker. BALTIMORE BRIDGE The Unified Command (UC) announced the opening of a new channel at the Port of Baltimore that has allowed ships trapped inside the port to leave. The Fort McHenry Limited Access Channel, which runs the length of the northeast side of the federal channel, provides additional access to commercially essential traffic. The limited access deep draft channel has a controlling depth of a minimum of 35 feet, a 300-foot horizontal clearance, and a vertical clearance of 214 feet. Starting Monday, April 29, operations to remove the Dali will require suspension of transits through the Fort McHenry Limited Access Channel. Once deemed safe, the channel will reopen for commercial traffic. PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) will increase the number of slots available for Panamax vessels to transit the waterway beginning 16 May and will add another slot for Neopanamax vessels on 1 June based on the present and projected water levels in Gatun Lake. The PCA began limiting the number of transits in August 2023 because of low water levels in Gatun Lake brought on by a severe drought that made 2023 the second driest year on record for the Panama Canal watershed catchment area. Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit edged lower for northbound vessels and rose for southbound vessels this week, according to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times a week ago were 3.0 days for northbound traffic and 2.9 for southbound traffic. The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) said current forecasts indicate that steady rainfall will arrive later this month and continue during the rainy season, which would allow the PCA to gradually ease transit restrictions and traffic could return to normal by 2025. Please see the Logistics: Impact on chemicals and energy topic page With additional reporting by Melissa Wheeler and Kevin Callahan


VIDEO: Europe R-PET flake, pellet sellers face challenges in May

LONDON (ICIS)–Senior Editor for Recycling, Matt Tudball, discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: Flake, food-grade pellet sellers looking at higher May offers Buyers considering more PET volumes, looking at non-EU R-PET imports Mixed coloured flake price views vary for May


INSIGHT: Latin America’s nascent EV market increasingly a Chinese affair

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Latin America’s take-up of electric vehicles (EVs) has started to gain momentum, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) this week, with Chinese producers drawing customers with sharply lower prices than western, established brands. Globally, electric car sales stood at 14 million in 2023. The IEA predicts this could reach around 17 million in 2024, more than one in five cars sold worldwide. In the IEA words, these figures are already showing the update in EVs is “shifting from early adopters to the mass market.” Comparatively, Latin America’s numbers are still very low, however, with EV sales in 2023 at 90,000 units, according to the IEA’s Global EV Outlook 2024, its annual report on the industry. In Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy with 215 million people, sales stood at 50,000 units in 2023, which tripled 2022 sales but still represented just 3% of the market. In Mexico, a 130-million-strong country, EV sales in 2023 stood at 15,000, up 80% year on year but still only a market share of just over 1%. Elon Musk’s Tesla reported on Wednesday that Q1 sales and earnings fell due to increased competition from hybrid models. Meanwhile, China’s EV market has grown exponentially in just a decade as the state helped to ensure firms could compete in favourable conditions. The government took the decision to strongly develop its EV sector, with billions of dollars spent in subsidies over the last decade and a half, and now western players are playing catch up. BRAZIL ETHANOL EXCEPTIONAs well as Europe and the US, another key automotive market for EVs was Brazil. There, however, producers at least had a green fuel to justify their inaction: ethanol, which since the 1970s started to transform Brazil’s transport emissions landscape, although at the time the decision was mostly taken to avoid oil shocks the world had just witnessed. By the 2010s, when the key Paris Accord and successive upgrades to it were agreed, Brazil had already achieved some of the targets for transport emissions reductions. The country’s growing role as one of the world’s breadbaskets and ethanol-powered cars are, of course, related. Transport is going electric, however, and there are some attempts from western established players to start closing Brazil's gap with the rest of the world – as well as the Chinese producers’ presence. “Growth in Brazil was underpinned by the entry of Chinese carmakers, such as BYD, Great Wall, and Chery, [whose models] immediately ranked among the best-selling models in 2023. Road transport electrification in Brazil could bring significant climate benefits given the largely low-emissions power mix, as well as reducing local air pollution,” said the IEA. “Today, biofuels are important alternative fuels available at competitive cost and aligned with the existing refuelling infrastructure. Brazil remains the world’s largest producer of sugar cane, and its agribusiness represents about one-fourth of GDP.” The Brazilian government approved at the end of 2023 the so-called Green Mobility and Innovation Programme, which provides tax incentives for companies to develop and manufacture low-emissions road transport technology, with nearly Brazilian reais (R) 19.0 billion ($4.0 billion) to be deployed up to 2028. Several major automotive producers do commercialise hybrid ethanol-electric models, but all-electric models have been more elusive. In comes China, again. BYD said earlier this year it plans to invest $600 million in a new plant in Brazil, its first outside Asia, aiming to produce 150,000 units per year. General Motors, long established in Brazil, also said around the same time it was to invest $1.4 billion up to 2028 at its Brazil facilities to implement a “complete renewal” of its vehicle portfolio, focusing on EVs. Stellantis – the company resulting from the merger of Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and France’s PSA Group – said recently it would invest €5.6 billion up to 2030 in South America, with most of the funds channelled to its Brazilian operations. These investments, overall, have given the beleaguered Brazilian automotive sector the impetus to potentially recover part of its old glory. Just a decade ago, Brazil produced well over 3 million cars per year. In 2023, it produced 2.3 million. But Chinese producers’ strong entry into Brazil’s market – as well as Mexico’s – could have lasting consequences for consumption patterns. Earlier in April, a source at a chemicals producer in Brazil, for whom the established producers are a key customer, conceded with some apprehension it had just purchased a China-made car. “Chinese brands are newcomers and as such they are disrupting the market with lower prices. I paid for my electric car around R150,000 [$29,200], but some of the established brands are selling their EV models for well over R200,000,” the source said. While inaccessible for most Brazilians, where the minimum monthly wage stands at R1412 ($275), those who can afford SUVs are increasingly turning their eyes to Chinese brands. “They are good cars, and the prices are just so competitive – the choice for me was clear,” the source concluded. According to automotive publications, the cheapest EV car sold in Brazil, at R120,000, is manufactured by Chery Automobile, a state-owned Chinese manufacturer which is the third largest in its home market. CHINA MOVES INTO MEXICOChina’s approach to subsidising its EV industry is causing concern, especially in the US, now also in a race to prop up its own EV sector. Twenty Chinese EV companies have set up operations in Mexico, which is part of the tariff-free North American trade deal USCMA between Mexico, the US, and Canada. Washington fears Mexico could act as the gate of entry into the USMCA free trade zone after the US imposed hefty tariffs in most EV-related Chinese goods, precisely because of the generous state support they enjoy at home. Last week, Mexican media reported how the US had put pressure on Mexico to withdraw subsidies or any other Federal or state support for Chinese EV manufacturers; Mexican states are in a race to attract foreign direct investment (FID) in manufacturing, tapping into the nearshoring trend. Also last week, the Mexican Association of Automotive Distributors (AMDA) showed its concerns about Chinese firms “invading” the country’s automotive sector, according to a report in ABC Noticias. Since 2020, Chinese-manufactured products and brands have gained traction among Mexican consumers, capturing 8.2% of sales during the first quarter of 2024. Guillermo Rosales Zarate, AMDA’s president, said this influx had played a pivotal role in the industry's recovery following the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the polite words stopped there. AMDA published a report, compiled with official data from Mexico’s statistical office Inegi, which showed the sharp increase in China-made automotive parts and vehicles now present in the market. "In this first quarter, the sale of products imported from China, manufactured in China and imported into the Mexican market, and sold through the various participating brands, already represents 19.2%,” said Cristina Vázquez Ruiz, coordinator of economic studies at AMDA. “If we extract Chinese brands from this percentage, this would represent 8.2% [of car sales in Mexico]." The IEA in its annual report stayed away from this controversy. The IEA is a lobby group which advocates for greener technologies and decarbonisation, as most of its key member countries – and financiers – lack the traditional energy sources of their own: the green transition for most of them is a simply a strategic must do. “Given its proximity to the US, Mexico’s automotive market is already well integrated with North American partners, and benefits from advantageous trade agreements, large existing manufacturing capacity, and eligibility for subsidies under the IRA [US regulation propping up green investments],” said the IEA. “As a result, local EV supply chains are developing quickly, with expectations that this will spill over into domestic markets. Tesla, Ford, Stellantis, BMW, GM, Volkswagen (VW), and Audi have all either started manufacturing or announced plans to manufacture EVs in Mexico.” Elsewhere in Latin America, EVs update has been rather poor. In Colombia, a country of 50 million, sales in 2023 stood at 6,000 units. In Costa Rica, with a population of five million, sales stood at 5,000 units. The IEA did not have date for other countries in the region. ELECTRIC BUSES STRONGERUptake of electric buses in Latin America, especially in urban areas where much of the investments required come from public or semi-public entities, has been stronger. City buses are easier to electrify than long-distance coaches thanks to their relatively fixed driving patterns and lower daily travel distances. Once again, Chinese manufacturers are exporting “large volumes” of electric buses, accounting for over 85% of electric city bus deployments in Latin America, said the IEA. “Cities across Latin America, such as Bogota and Santiago, have deployed nearly 6,500 electric buses to date. There are also longer-standing programmes, such as the Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator partnership that was launched in 2019 to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission buses in major Latin American cities,” it added. “Buenos Aires is targeting a 50% zero emission bus fleet by 2030, and a wider study of 32 Latin American cities expects that 25,000 electric buses will be deployed by 2030, and 55,000 by 2050.” Globally, almost 50,000 electric buses were sold in 2023, equating to 3% of total bus sales and bringing the global stock to approximately 635,000, concluded the IEA. Front page picture: EV charging points. Source: Shutterstock Insight by Jonathan Lopez


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