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Latin America stories: weekly summary

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Here are some of the stories from ICIS Latin America for the week ended on 24 May. NEWS Brazil’s Triunfo petchems restart odd one out as wider industry still disrupted – consultant Most of Rio Grande do Sul’s industrial plants remain shut or operating at very low rates as the Brazilian state reels from the floods, with the restart at the Triunfo petrochemicals hub an exception rather than the norm, a chemicals consultant at MaxiQuim said to ICIS. Mexico’s Orbia/Vestolit's Altamira plant ceases operations due to water scarcity Orbia/Vestolit ceased operations at its Altamira, Tampico facilities in Mexico on 21 May due to water scarcity. The company operates there a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) facility with a production capacity of 690,000 tonnes/year. The company estimates it could resume activity on 19 June. SABIC declares force majeure at Tampico Mexico ABS plant SABIC Innovative Plastics Mexico (SABIC) declared force majeure at its Tampico, Mexico acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plant on 23 May. The products affected include CYCOLAC ABS.  This facility has a capacity of 30,000 tonnes. Mexico’s Q1 GDP grows 0.3%, economic activity remains healthy in MarchMexico’s GDP rose by 0.3% in Q1, an acceleration from Q4’s 0.1% quarterly growth, the country’s statistic office Inegi said on Thursday. Brazil’s antitrust authority paves way for Petrobras to shed refinery sales Brazilian state-owned energy major Petrobras has been allowed by the country’s antitrust authority CADE to backtrack on planned refinery sales. Argentina’s manufacturing down nearly 20% in March Argentina’s petrochemicals-intensive manufacturing output fell in March by 19.6% year on year, the country’s statistics office, Indec, said this week. Brazil’s Unigel creditors mull fertilizers divestment The debt restructuring agreement at Unigel, under which the Brazilian chemicals producer’s creditors are to take a 50% equity stake, could result in a divestment of the company's beleaguered fertilizers division. Brazil’s Unigel to give creditors 50% equity stake in debt restructuring Unigel has obtained the support of enough creditors for a debt restructuring plan although it comes at a price as they will be getting a 50% equity stake in the Brazilian chemical and fertilizer producer. Brazil's Braskem restart at Triunfo to kick off petchem hub normalization Braskem has restarted operations at its Triunfo facility in the flood-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul, which will allow other players in the petrochemicals hub to start up their plants as many depend on input from the Brazilian polymers major to operate. INEOS Styrolution declares force majeure at Altamira Mexico facility INEOS Styrolution declared force majeure at its facility in Altamira, Mexico, on 20 May. The products affected include Teluran ABS, Novodur High Heat ABS and Luran ASA. This facility has a capacity of 113,000 tonnes. Chile’s Q1 GDP up 2.3% on strong consumption, manufacturing up 1.1% The Chilean economy started 2024 on a strong footing with GDP growth in the first quarter at 2.3%, year on year, the country’s central bank said on Monday. Volkswagen, Stellantis idle car plants in Brazil, Argentina after floods Volkswagen (VW) idled its three plants in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo on Monday, as suppliers in the floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul are unable to produce any automotive parts, a spokesperson for the German automotive major told ICIS. PRICING LatAm PP international prices stable to up on higher Asian freights International polypropylene (PP) prices were assessed as steady to higher across Latin American countries due to the surge in freight rates from Asia to the region. LatAm PE domestic, international prices steady on sufficient supply, stable demand Domestic and international polyethylene (PE) prices were assessed unchanged this week across Latin American countries on the back of sufficient supply and stable demand.

27-May-2024

Europe top stories: weekly summary

LONDON (ICIS)–Here are some of the top stories from ICIS Europe for the week ended 24 May. Brenntag CEO says Europe must play to its strengths Europe’s chemical sector is seeing a wave of commodity production closures, which is likely to accelerate as the region is suffering from structurally higher energy costs and depressed margins since it lost access to cheap Russian gas. Europe epoxy sentiment stable, Asia imports may face EU antidumping claim Europe epoxy resins prices have been mainly agreed with rollovers for May so far, in spite of a drop in feedstock costs this month. Speculation is also growing over EU anti-dumping claims against Asian imports. Europe naphtha and gasoline prices firm on improved liquidity, summer optimism Liquidity in Europe's naphtha and gasoline markets improved in the week to 17 May as stable-to-soft prices encouraged buying appetite, just as the market is gearing up for an uptick in demand ahead of the summer holidays. Europe PE, PP contract prices down beyond monomer for May Europe’s polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) freely negotiated prices for May are down, with variance by grade

27-May-2024

Moldovan gas market should couple with Romania – Moldovagaz CEO

Moldovan gas market and incumbent Moldovagaz undergo major changes related to market and transit Coupling with Romanian market would help speed up implementing daily balancing Political developments may determine the direction taken by the market LONDON (ICIS)–Moldova’s best chance to consolidate its gas sector is to couple up with the Romanian market, the CEO of gas incumbent Moldovagaz told ICIS on 24 May. Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the company, which is majority owned by Russia’s Gazprom, Vadim Ceban said the country and Moldovagaz were facing major changes including the establishment of a competitive market, an internal reshuffle and not least the future of the Russian gas transit from 2025. Ceban said the key step towards establishing a competitive gas market in line with EU rules would involve setting up a functional balancing market. Nevertheless, he warned Moldova would struggle to introduce balancing operations in the immediate future because this would entail scaling up the deployment of smart metering and ensuring there were enforceable penalties for imbalances. To fast-track the process, Moldova should consider coupling the market with Romania’s, which already has a daily balancing market and benefits from the experience of a variety of participants including domestic producers and suppliers, Ceban said. As an EU candidate member, Moldova is expected to implement rules related to establishing market competition, unbundle transmission operations and consolidate institutions. UNPRECEDENTED CHANGES The country is going through unprecedented changes, transitioning from being fully dependent on Russian supplies in 2021 to buying volumes from a range of sources on all regional markets. Last year, it also divested transmission operations , which had been historically held under the Moldovagaz umbrella. These were transferred to Vestmoldtransgaz, a company majority owned by the Romanian gas grid operator, Transgaz, and which is the main stakeholder in the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline connecting the two countries. Trading has already been picking up on an organised platform hosted by the Moldovan branch of the Romanian gas exchange, BRM, and more liquidity is expected to build up as various segments of consumers are deregulated and new companies enter the market, including from abroad. Earlier this month, the Romanian state producer Romgaz opened a new branch in Moldova, expecting to trade locally and support Moldova’s security of supply. Nevertheless, although Romanian traders welcome tighter relations with Moldova, they have also warned that Romania itself would need to improve its market conditions as the government continues to regulate wholesale and retail prices. TRADING Moldovagaz itself is considering the organisation of operations in a way that its current subsidiary Transautogaz could focus on trading on the free market, while another branch, Flacara Albastra, would be tasked to supply consumers on the regulated market, Ceban said. Moldovagaz is responsible for supplying gas to households, which cover the bulk of the market. This is part of the company’s public service obligation introduced by the government. Ceban insists Moldovagaz should not be seen as a market monopoly because its historical objectives since its foundation on 24 May 1999 were to guarantee security of supply for the country. In fact, the company has been changing so much that it secured natural gas on the BRM East Energy platform for delivery in May at a price that was slightly lower than the gas secured under the long-term Russian contract. He also insisted the state-wholesaler Energocom which has been taking an increasingly important role in the market over the last three years should overhaul its operations to ensure that trading on the free market is separated from its main responsibility to build up stocks for security of supply. RUSSIAN GAS TRANSIT Ceban agreed the company was also facing the challenge of securing gas for Transnistria, a Russian-controlled breakaway state internationally recognised as being part of Moldova from 2025. The region on the left bank of the River Dniester currently receives around 2 billion cubic meters annually via Ukraine. However, as Ukraine’s own transit agreement with Russia’s Gazprom expires on 1 January 2025, and Kyiv is adamant it will not renew the contract, Moldovagaz is already exploring alternative options to secure the gas coming in reverse from Turkey. Ceban said an abundance of supplies in the Balkan region and Romania is already helping Moldova to secure gas at heavily discounted prices. “Until a few years ago Moldova was buying at TTF plus, now it can secure the gas at TTF minus,” he said. Nevertheless, many of the objectives that need to be achieved will also depend on the political direction that the country takes following presidential and parliamentary elections this and next year, Ceban conceded.

24-May-2024

ICIS Economic Summary: Confidence rises on ‘soft or no landing’ scenario for US economy

NEW YORK (ICIS)–Economists are growing ever more confident on a soft landing for the US as they continue to ratchet up growth forecasts – now to the point where it’s hardly a landing at all. After all, consensus estimates for 2024 GDP growth at 2.4% are nearly on par with the 2.5% gain seen in 2023. ICIS likewise forecasts US GDP growth of 2.4% for 2024. On a quarterly trajectory, growth is expected to bottom out in Q3 at 1.3%. Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis, ICIS forecast Softer consumer price index (CPI) inflation data, weak retail sales and a Services PMI (Purchasing Managers’ Index) moving into contraction have renewed hopes of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve – the consensus now being two cuts this year, starting in September. The core CPI coming in weaker than expected at 3.6% for April versus 3.8% in both March and February kicked off the latest bout of optimism, quickly sending 10-year Treasury yields down below 4.5%. Retail sales in April were flat from March and up 3.0% year on year – well below expectations and down from a 0.6% monthly gain in March. This suggests consumer spending is slowing in the face of slower job and income gains, and lingering inflation. Source: ICIS forecasts Notable year-on-year gains were in ecommerce (+7.5%), miscellaneous store retailers (+8.8%) and restaurants and bars (+5.5%), while declining categories were led by furniture and home furnishings (-8.4%), sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and books (-4.7%) and building materials and garden equipment (-1.0%). This highlights weakness in consumer discretionary purchases – a key point cited by big box retailer Target in its Q1 results. Services inflation has been the sticking point, but relief may be ahead. The ISM US Services PMI in April dipped into contraction (below 50) for the first time in 16 months, dropping to 49.4 from 51.4 in March. Meanwhile, the ISM US Manufacturing PMI also dipped into contraction, with a reading of 49.2 in April after expanding in March for the first time in 17 months to 50.3. After a long period of industrial recession, there are green shoots of a manufacturing revival, but the road ahead looks bumpy. Chemical companies posted somewhat better-than-expected Q1 earnings and guided to a seasonally stronger Q2 and a gradual recovery for the rest of the year, with growth and resilience in the Americas, stabilization in Europe and slow recovery in China. However, weakness in US housing and durables continues. Rate cuts could jump-start demand in both as higher sales of new and existing homes in turn spurs spending on durables such as furniture, carpets, consumer electronics and appliances. So far, many people seeking to move are simply locked into their homes because of low-rate mortgages secured or refinanced years ago. Buying another home would essentially double their financing costs. US housing starts jumped 5.7% in April to a 1.36 million unit pace, with gains in the multi-family segment. In the single-family segment, starts eased 0.4% to a 1.03 million unit pace. April starts were off 0.6% year on year. ICIS projects housing starts to rise slightly from 1.42 million in 2023 to 1.45 million in 2024. Meanwhile, light vehicle sales rose 1.1% to a 15.74 million unit pace in April and were up 0.4% year on year. ICIS projects a slight gain in light vehicle sales, from 15.5 million units in 2023 to 15.8 million in 2024. The ICIS US Leading Business Barometer (LBB), a key forward-looking indicator for the US business cycle, ticked up 0.1% in April – the second gain in the past three months following a 21-month stretch of declines. This appears to be signaling improving conditions in manufacturing and some transport industries. The greatest risk to the improving economic outlook is an external supply shock. With heightened geopolitical tensions around the world and an increasing trend towards protectionism in markets, this bears watching closely.

24-May-2024

Canada freight rail strike unlikely to begin before mid-July, rail carrier says

TORONTO (ICIS)–A possible freight rail strike in Canada is not likely to begin before mid-July, according to rail carrier Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC). The ongoing uncertainties over the looming strike make it hard for Canadian chemical, fertilizer and other industrial producers, in particular exporters, to prepare for a work stoppage. After about 9,300 unionized conductors, train operators and engineers at freight rail carriers CPKC and Canadian National (CN) earlier this month voted for a strike as early as 22 May, Canada’s federal labor minister referred the matter to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), a quasi-judicial tribunal charged with keeping industrial peace in Canada. The minister wants the CIRB to investigate if disruptions to the supply of certain products (heavy fuel, propane, food, chlorine and other water treatment chemicals) could pose safety and health issues. A legal strike or lockout cannot occur until the CIRB makes a decision. In a statement, CPKC said that while it remains unclear how long it will take for the CIRB to issue a decision, “based on precedent, it is unlikely the parties will be in a position to initiate a legal strike or lockout before mid-July or later”. Labor union Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) said that it would have to give 72-hour notice before starting a strike, meaning that the earliest date for a strike to begin is at least 72 hours after the CIRB makes its decision. After TCRC and the rail carriers made no progress in the latest collective bargaining talks ended 21 May, the parties are scheduled to meet again next week to continue negotiations with the assistance of federal mediators. IMPACTS ON CHEMICALS AND FERTILIZERS Freight rail work stoppages can quickly affect logistics in the chemical, fertilizer and other industries, and a simultaneous stoppage at CPKC and CN, which are Canada’s biggest rail carriers by far, would magnify impacts. The uncertainties about the exact timing of strike actions has already created difficulties in planning for sulfur importers and exporters in North America. “We are just waiting to see what will happen. We did quite a bit of sulfur business before the situation about the strike happened, but it is very difficult to know what to do next”, a source at a major exporter of sulfur told ICIS earlier this week. In the fertilizer industry, about 75% of all fertilizer produced and used in Canada is moved by rail and the industry depends on rail to move product across the country and into international markets. In the chemical industry, chemical producers rely on rail to ship more than 70% of their products, with some exclusively using rail. In the run-up to potential strikes, producers need to prepare, longer strikes can force them to curtail production or shut down plants, and after a strike ends it can take weeks for normal operations to resume. Canada freight rail traffic, ended 18 May: Source: Association of American Railroads With additional reporting by Julia MeehanPlease also visit Logistics: Impact on chemicals and energy Thumbnail photo source: Canadian Pacific Kansas City

24-May-2024

UK Q3 energy price cap falls but Q4 increase likely

UK Q3 energy price cap falls to £1,568, in line with lower wholesale energy prices Q3 cap is £122 lower than Q2, also decreases year on year Q4 wholesale prices at premium to Q3, indicating the Q4 cap is likely to rise Additional reporting by Matt Farmer LONDON (ICIS)–The UK energy price cap for July-September has fallen quarter on quarter and year on year in line with lower wholesale gas and power prices, energy regulator Ofgem said on 24 May. Introduced in January 2019, the cap sets the maximum price that gas and electricity suppliers can charge end-users for each unit of energy consumed. Ofgem sets the price cap through a methodology that factors in a range of supplier operating costs, including ICIS wholesale energy price assessments, as well as VAT and network costs. Looking ahead, if forward prices for delivery in the fourth quarter of 2024 remain at current levels, the wholesale component of the cap for the period October-December is expected to be higher than for the preceding three months. FALLING PRICES ICIS assessed the NBP gas Q3 ’24 contract at an average 70.09p/th between 16 February to 17 May – the period used by Ofgem to calculate wholesale energy costs. This was lower than the previous year when the equivalent contract averaged 108.966p/th. Prices have steadily declined from their peak after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but prices remain more changeable than before the invasion with greater exposure to LNG markets. Gas is a key price driver of the UK power market, meaning that UK power prices have tracked a similar bearish trend with Q3 ’24 at a significant discount to Q3 ’23. ICIS assessed the UK power Baseload Q3 ’24 contract at an average £64.72/MWh between 16 February and 17 May, 45% lower than the Q3 ’23 over equivalent dates. The Q3 ’24 contract has maintained a premium to its European counterparts which indicates that the UK is likely to import power from neighbouring countries, including France, through the delivery period. Data from French grid operator RTE shows that nuclear output is set to average 48.1GW in the period 1 July to 30 September, a subsntial 12.7GW above the 2019-23 average. CAP OUTLOOK Both gas and power Q4 ’24 prices are currently at a premium to Q3 ’24, which will likely result in a higher wholesale component of the cap for the fourth quarter than for July-September. According to ICIS price assessments on 23 May, the NBP Q4 ’24 was 14.2p/th above the Q3 ’24 and the UK power Q4 ’24 Baseload was £11.30/MWh above the Q3 ’24. British gas storage in 2024 has maintained similar levels to those seen in 2023, at around 1.4bcm. However, LNG imports in 2024 have fallen to approximately one-fifth of those seen in 2023. Current British gas prices do not support LNG imports compared to stronger competition in Asia, and stronger prices in continental Europe. If this remains the case throughout summer, British prices may have to rise to attract LNG, pushing up the cap in the fourth quarter of 2024. On the power side, French nuclear availability is another key driver for UK power prices through the fourth quarter of 2024. The UK power Q4 ’24 Baseload contract was €106.56/MWh on 23 May, or €3.485/MWh above its French equivalent, indicating the UK is likely to import power from France during the fourth quarter of 2024. French nuclear availability is set to average 47GW in the period 1 October to 31 December, 6GW above the five-year average, RTE data showed. However, unplanned outages and downward revisions in nuclear availability would be bullish drivers for UK and French power prices.

24-May-2024

INTERVIEW: Brenntag CEO says Europe must play to its strengths

BARCELONA (ICIS)–Europe’s chemical sector is seeing a wave of commodity production closures, which is likely to accelerate as the region is suffering from structurally higher energy costs and depressed margins since it lost access to cheap Russian gas. There are fears that entire industrial value chains may lose access to essential raw materials and will have to rely instead on imports, which can be subject to logistics disruption. Some have likened the situation to a Jenga tower which will collapse if the wrong piece is removed. Brenntag  CEO Kohlpaintner believes the chemical industry in Europe should steer towards a higher degree of specialization and innovation, making the region a potential leader in specialty chemicals. He told ICIS, “Reinvestments or even new capacity in high energy value chains will not happen in Europe for as long as it does not solve the energy costs topic. The industry will react with a higher degree of specialisation and innovation, as it has in the past, but this adjustment will not go without pain.” Kohlpaintner believes bold transformational moves will be required by industry leaders in Europe.  “The entire chemical industry needs to think about how to reshuffle portfolios to create competitive players going forward. That is an overarching strategic question which the industry needs to figure out: it’s not the doomsday of the chemical industry in Europe, it will be a painful adjustment.” TRADE FLOWS OFFER OPPORTUNITIESAs the wave of closures gathers pace, Europe will become more of an import destination, especially for commodity chemicals sourced from low-cost and oversupplied countries such as the US and China. This could create opportunities for distributors such as Brenntag which is already gearing up by acquiring assets which will enable these shifting trade flows. According to Kohlpaintner, “We believe that trade flows will change: moving LNG from North America to Europe is just the first ambassador of what’s to come. It will gradually go down the value chain.” The Essentials business has reorganized internally into regions, supported by a global sourcing organization which can take a worldwide view on sourcing to adapt to new trade flows. Brenntag Specialties, on the other hand, is steered by global end use markets. According to Kohlpaintner, “By breaking down the regional view of our business we can really look at global trade flows and how Brenntag can participate here. We will source still domestically if it makes sense, but we always have alternatives and that is a key strength.” In December 2023, Brenntag announced it would acquire Solventis Group, a glycols and solvents distributor with access to port facilities at Antwerp in Belgium. A month earlier the group bought chlor-alkali distributor US Old World Specialty Chemicals, giving it access to sea terminal facilities to enhance its exporting capabilities. Ewout Van Jarwaarde, CEO of Brenntag Essentials, said, “Brenntag Essentials has implemented a “triple” strategy of leveraging our last mile service operations, regional sourcing and supply chain services and global supply chain capabilities. We are investing into what we call a “tollgate” – these are big transportation hubs with access into regional markets. Here we have sufficient storage capacity to bring in, for example, large vessels into the trade flow between North America and Europe.” He added, “With this we secure access to supply for those European partners that really need it, and also offer great optimization opportunities in case of energy price or demand fluctuations or supply fluctuations everywhere in the world.” COMPANY SPLITS ITS BUSINESSESAt a Capital Markets Day in December 2023 Brenntag revealed it would legally split the Essentials and Specialties business to create fully autonomous businesses. The company is under pressure from activist shareholders to spin off its specialties business. According to Kohlpaintner, “The specialties business model is substantially different from the industrial chemicals business model. This is why we are continuing the disentanglement of our two divisions down to the legal entity disentanglement, to be prepared for further steps.” “That leads us to a clear conclusion that the legal entity driven full-line distributor model, at least on the scale Brenntag is operating, is obsolete. We need to focus on what our suppliers really need from our Essentials or Specialties divisions. There is very little overlap,” he said. The CEO believes that by splitting the company, Brenntag will be ready to participate in more distributor consolidation or other strategic moves by 2025/2026. “We want to be prepared to seek all the opportunities which can arise and for that we need to disentangle first.  We need to be ready to play our cards when we need to. The chemical distribution industry is extremely fragmented – we’re still the leader but we have maybe only 5 or 6% market share globally.” He believes consolidation will gain speed and will happen in bigger steps. Many of the larger distributors are private equity owned and by definition this ownership will be limited in time as these groups seek an exit from their investments. The CEO prefers to continue with the strategy of bolt on acquisitions which need to become bigger as Brenntag itself grows. The company aims to spend €400 million to €500 million per year on M&A. “Nobody in the industry is deploying annual M&A funds on the level of Brenntag. In cases where larger combinations are possible and make sense, we also would know how to manage overlaps. But we continue to prefer bolt-on acquisitions at this time” he said. “Splitting the company is one, but only one option we want to be prepared for. How the world will look in 2025/26/27 nobody knows but I want to be prepared – and I don’t want Brenntag to act like a sleeping giant.” Interview by Will Beacham Thumbnail photo: Brenntag's headquarters in Essen, Germany (Source: Brenntag) Clarification: 13th paragraph – Ewout Van Jarwaarde's title is CEO of Brenntag Essentials

24-May-2024

Singapore Apr chemicals output rises 3.1%; overall manufacturing down 1.6%

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Singapore's April chemicals output rose by 3.1% year on year, supported by strong growth in the petroleum segment, official data showed on Friday. April output from the petroleum segment within the chemicals cluster rose by 9.3%, the Economic Development Board (EDB) said in a statement. Specialties and petrochemicals output within the overall chemicals cluster posted a 1.2% and a 0.8% year-on-year growth in April, respectively, with the former recording higher production of mineral oil and food additives. In the first four months of the year, output of the chemicals cluster increased by 5.6% year on year. Singapore's overall manufacturing output in April fell by 1.6% year on year, but was up 7.1% on a month-on-month seasonally adjusted basis. 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. The country's petrochemical shipments abroad rose by 26.5% year on year in April, reversing the 3.6% decline in the previous month. Overall exports of chemicals and chemical products in April fell by 34.5% year on year, extending the 37% contraction in March. The country's overall non-oil domestic exports (NODX) fell by 9.3% year on year in April, extending the 20.8% decline in the preceding month. GDP GROWTH FORECAST UNCHANGED Singapore maintained its gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the year at a range of 1 to 3% as its economy grew by 2.7% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said on 23 May. The first quarter growth was in line with the ministry’s advance estimates and faster than the 2.2% growth recorded in the last quarter of 2023. The first quarter was also the quickest pace in 18 months since the economy grew 4.1% on a year-on-year basis in the third quarter of 2022. “Base effects continue to remain favorable in Q2 while growth momentum could strengthen in H2 2024 driven by the anticipated recovery in externally oriented sectors as financial conditions gradually ease should central banks in the advanced economies commence their rate cut cycles,” said Jester Koh, an associate economist at Singapore-based UOB Global Economics & Markets Research. Meanwhile, China's recovery, bolstered by measures promoting equipment renewals, consumer goods trade-ins, and property market stabilization, should have positive spillover effects on Singapore and the broader region, Koh said. “We maintain our 2024 GDP growth forecast at 2.9%, which sits at the upper end of MTI’s unchanged forecast range of 1.0-3.0%,” he added. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman

24-May-2024

Eyes on US Gulf chem production as Atlantic hurricane season could be busiest on record

HOUSTON (ICIS)–There is likely to be increased focus on US Gulf petchem production this summer as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting the greatest number of hurricanes in the agency’s history. NOAA forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday that the hurricane season, which starts on 1 June and runs through 30 November, has an 85% chance to be above-normal, a 10% chance of being near-normal, and only a 5% chance of being below-normal. The prediction of 17-25 named storms is the highest ever, topping the 14-23 predicted in 2010. A storm is named once it has sustained winds of 39 miles/hour (63 km/hour). Several factors support the prediction, including near-record warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic ocean, development of La Nina conditions in the Pacific, reduced Atlantic trade winds and less wind shear, all of which tend to favor tropical storm formation. At the same time, abundant oceanic heat content in the tropical Atlantic ocean and Caribbean Sea creates more energy to fuel storm development, NOAA said. La Nina is typically associated with a stronger US hurricane season because as storms move across the Atlantic ocean, weaker upper- and lower- level winds combine to reduce the vertical wind shear and increased hurricane activity. The two most-active seasons in the past 24 years, 2005 and 2020, were both transitional climate periods (from El Niño to La Niña, which is what we are currently experiencing). The water temperature in the mid-Atlantic is already much warmer than normal, which can strongly influence the rapid development and intensity of storms. The picture below shows the same period comparison (May 14-20) in 2005 and 2024. In the Caribbean, sea surface temperatures are already at levels normally seen in the peak hurricane development period (August/September). These factors are some of the ones scientists consider when setting their forecasts, which helps explain the call for an above-average hurricane season in 2024. During a news conference to announce the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook, officials noted that storms can intensify rapidly and urged preparation ahead of time. Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, said every category 5 hurricane that made landfall was a tropical storm three days earlier. Rapidly intensifying storms leave oil companies and chemical plants less time to decide whether they should shut down operations. As a result, they may err on the side of caution and shut down because they do not have enough time to see if the storm will veer course or hit them. The forecast predicts 8-13 of the named storms will reach hurricane strength, with 4-7 of them becoming major hurricanes. Hurricanes are rated using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, numbered from 1 to 5, based on a hurricane’s maximum sustained wind speeds, with a Category 5 storm being the strongest. Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Category Wind speed 1 74-95 miles/hour 2 96-110 miles/hour 3 111-129 miles/hour 4 130-156 miles/hour 5 157+ miles/hour Hurricanes and tropical storms can disrupt the North American petrochemical industry because many of the nation's plants and refineries are along the US Gulf Coast in the states of Texas and Louisiana. In 2022, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico accounted for about 15% of total US crude oil production and about 2% of total US dry natural gas production, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Even the threat of a major storm can disrupt oil and natural gas supplies because companies often evacuate US Gulf platforms as a precaution. The hurricane forecast from Colorado State University’s Weather and Climate Research department also predicted an extremely active season, expecting 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes and five major hurricanes. Additional reporting by Josh Dillingham (Recasts to add additional information in paragraphs 8-10)

23-May-2024

US tariff hikes on China EVs, batteries take effect 1 August

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Starting August, US tariffs on imports of electric vehicles (EVs) from China will quadruple to 100%, while those for battery materials will more than triple to 25%, the US Trade Representative (USTR) said. Tariff hikes on imports of other Chinese products will take effect in January 2025 and January 2026, according to the USTR notice dated 22 May. Schedule of US tariff hikes on Chinese imports (by product) Product Category Proposed Changes Battery parts (non-lithium-ion batteries) Up from 7.5% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Electric vehicles Up from 25% to 100% on 1 Aug 2024 Lithium-ion electrical vehicle batteries Up from 7.5% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Lithium-ion non-electrical vehicle batteries Up from 7.5% to 25% on 1 Jan 2026 Natural graphite Up from 0% to 25% on 1 Jan 2026 Other critical minerals Up from 0% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Permanent magnets Up from 0% to 25% on 1 Jan 2026 Semiconductors Up from 25% to 50% on 1 Jan 2025 Ship-to-shore cranes Up from 0% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Solar cells (whether or not assembled into modules) Up from 25% to 50% on 1 Aug 2024 Steel and aluminum products Up from 0–7.5% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Facemasks Up from 0–7.5% to 25% on 1 Aug 2024 Medical gloves Up from 7.5% to 25% on 1 Jan 2026 Syringes and needles Up from 0% to 50% on 1 Aug 2024 Source: USTR EVs and associated battery markets are an important growth opportunity for the chemical industry, with chemical producers separately developing battery materials, as well as specialty polymers and adhesives for the environment-friendly vehicles. The automotive industry has a vital relationship with the chemicals sector and continues to be an instrumental force in the global economy as an employment-intensive sector. In 2021-2023, the US' share to Chinese EV exports stood at just 0.7-1.6% amid its existing 25% punitive tariffs on these green cars. The US tariff hike to 100% is largely considered a de facto ban on Chinese EVs, an official from the China Association of Automotive Manufacturers (CAAM) had said. There are concerns that another round of tit-for-tat disruptive protectionist policies between the world's two biggest economies is in the offing. China has been facing criticisms from its major trading partners for operating at overcapacity. In late 2023, the European Commission had initiated an anti-subsidy investigation into China’s EVs. In a post to the social media platform X on 22 May, China's Chamber of Commerce to the European Union (CCCEU), signaled that it "could raise its temporary tariff rate on imported large-engine vehicles to a maximum of 25%" from 15% currently. On 14 May, the US announced the tariff hikes on $18bn worth of imports from China, citing what it deems as unfair trade practices by the Asian giant, with a view of protecting US jobs. US companies affected by the new trade measures can apply for tariff exclusions for certain machinery, but such exceptions will end on 31 May 2025, the USTR stated, while also proposing temporary exclusions for some solar manufacturing equipment. The decision was made months ahead of US elections in November, in which incumbent US President Joe Biden is seeking a second four-year term. Focus article by Fanny Zhang Thumbnail image: Rows of new energy vehicles at the Changan Automobile Distribution Center in Chongqing, China, on 19 May 2024.(Costfoto/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

23-May-2024

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