TOPIC PAGE: Coronavirus, oil price direction – impact on chemicals

Will Beacham


Since the pandemic, the problems on the global chemical industry continue to grow exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

European chemical company stocks fell in the latter part of the week amid a wider market sell-off as below-expectations US retail financials and high domestic inflation drive fears that falling consumer demand could result in a recession.

Meanwhile, the US supply-chain problems could persist for another two years because new problems continue to pop up.

Improved Chinese demand may lend support to Asia’s fatty alcohols market, as China gradually eases its COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

This is amid expectations that Shanghai, a major port and key financial and production hub, is likely to open up fully from 1 June.

However, a number of market participants were fairly skeptical that the easing of the lockdowns would provide significant support to the Asian IPA markets.

Updated on 20 May with news story links

On this topic page we analyse the impact of coronavirus and oil price dynamics on chemical markets and bring together the latest news reported by ICIS. 

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LATEST HEADLINES (Last updated at 09:00 GMT on 20 May 2022)

Asia BDO under pressure as tepid demand persists, economic uncertainty
By Clive Ong 20-May-22 12:17 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The Asian butanediol (BDO) market remains under downward pressure from prevailing soft demand in the region. Buying momentum could remain slow in the near term from economic headwinds from the Ukraine conflict and Russian sanctions, as well as the lockdown in China which looks set to ease.

INSIGHT: US supply chain problems may continue for two more years
By Al Greenwood 19-May-22 21:00 HOUSTON (ICIS)–US supply-chain problems could persist for another two years because new problems continue to pop up. Since the pandemic started more than two years ago, problems continue to compound problems, said Eric Byer, president of the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD). He participated in a conference call with the ACC.

Markets sell-off drives down Europe chemical stocks
By Tom Brown 19-May-22 19:28 LONDON (ICIS)–European chemical company stocks fell on Thursday amid a wider market sell-off as below-expectations US retail financials and high domestic inflation drive fears that falling consumer demand could result in a recession.

PODCAST: China’s MMA demand recovery to lag despite Shanghai reopening
By Olivia Dai 19-May-22 15:06 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–ICIS analyst Jady Ma and Olivia Dai discuss the recent developments and outlook of China’s methyl methacrylate (MMA) market.

Asia fatty alcohols near-term demand may pick up on China lockdown easing
By Helen Yan 18-May-22 12:14 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Improved Chinese demand may lend support to Asia’s fatty alcohols market, as China gradually eases its COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. This is amid expectations that Shanghai, a major port and key financial and production hub, is likely to open up fully from 1 June.

Increase of PP, PE imports from China in Pakistan due to lockdowns
By Nadim Salamoun 17-May-22 23:29 DUBAI (ICIS)–Chinese polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) breakbulk and containerized cargoes have been increasingly available in the Pakistani market, directly competing with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-origin material. The situation could be attributed to the increased lockdowns in China, which have negatively impacted domestic demand.

PODCAST: Slowing China will hurt global economy, chemicals
By Will Beacham 17-May-22 21:29 BARCELONA (ICIS)–As lockdowns, the Common Prosperity policy and lacklustre export markets cut growth in China’s economy, the global chemical industry should prepare for negative demand growth in 2022.

Easing of lockdown provides limited support for Asian IPA
By Julia Tan 17-May-22 19:31 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asian isopropanol (IPA) markets saw slightly mixed indicative prices in the week, although market sentiment continues to be weak. Market sources underlined on Tuesday that demand was not likely to pick up until mid-June. Despite news that Shanghai lockdowns would begin to ease in early June, a number of market participants were fairly sceptical that this would provide significant support to the Asian IPA markets.

Asia petrochemical supplies rise as China exports grow amid weak yuan
By Fanny Zhang 13-May-22 16:13 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s petrochemical markets are being weighed down by growing supply, with China exporting more products – spurred by the weak yuan and poor domestic demand amid lockdowns. The Chinese yuan (CNY) lost nearly 7% against the US dollar from the start of April to 13 May, with the exchange rate at CNY6.79 to $1, data from the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) show. The yuan depreciation has caused a narrowing or closing of arbitrage windows for moving cargoes into China, while opening up better export opportunities. With a weaker yuan, the trading route “out of China” may stay for a while, traders said. The country’s domestic demand is significantly dented by tight restrictions on people movement and business activity following a strong resurgence of COVID-19 infections, consequently, exerting strong downward pressure on Asian markets.

Asia fatty acids remain soft on China lockdowns and Indonesia export ban uncertainty
By Helen Yan 13-May-22 15:05 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s fatty acids market is likely to remain soft in the near term, due to the economic slowdown in China and the expected removal of Indonesia’s export ban on crude palm oil (CPO) sometime in May. China lockdowns are weighing on demand in Asia. “There is too much uncertainty, with the market not sure when China will lift its lockdowns and when Indonesia will lift its export ban on palm oil,” a regional supplier said. Market players are adopting a cautious stance and buyers are reluctant to commit to any large spot purchases, given the uncertainty and expectations that the export ban is likely to be removed soon.

Container rates from China to US down by 20% since Shanghai lockdowns began
By Adam Yanelli 13-May-22 05:23 HOUSTON (ICIS)–Rates for shipping containers from east Asia and China to both US coasts have fallen by between 13-20% since COVID-19-related lockdowns began in Shanghai in March, and with China holding fast to its zero-COVID-19 policy, the trend could continue. The impact of the lockdown measures on China’s available exports has been significant, leading to the major ocean shipping alliances announcing cancellations of at least a third of their scheduled sailings out of Asia through early June.

US considers dropping Chinese tariffs to fight inflation – Biden
By Al Greenwood 11-May-22 06:09 HOUSTON (ICIS)–The administration of US President Joe Biden is discussing whether removing the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports would lower inflation, he said on Tuesday. The US imposed tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth Chinese imports – including plastics and chemicals – amid allegations of unfair trade policies on the part of China, which included unfair technology transfers and theft of intellectual property.

INSIGHT: Can US, global economies avoid recession amid a whirlwind of headwinds?
By Joseph Chang 12-May-22 01:10 NEW YORK (ICIS)–Can the US and major economies around the world avoid a recession in the face of what can only be called a whirlwind of headwinds? In the US, the Federal Reserve is moving to tame the inflation beast and engineer a soft landing for the economy. Fed chair Jerome Powell opened the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) press conference on 4 May by addressing the American people directly. “Inflation is much too high, and we understand the hardship it is causing, and we’re moving expeditiously to bring it back down. We have both the tools we need and the resolve it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses,” said Powell.

Asian spot TiO2 to come under pressure from weak Chinese yuan in early May
By Joson Ng 06-May-22 11:17 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–A depreciating Chinese currency against the US dollar could start to have an impact on the Asian titanium dioxide (TiO2) spot market starting in May.

Turkey PE and PP prices stable, market quiet amid public holidays
By Samantha Wright 05-May-22 23:53 LONDON (ICIS)–Turkish polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) values were steady this week due to a lack of activity following a public holiday.

Europe ABS, SAN import challenge likely to persist
By Yashas Mudumbai 05-May-22 19:20 LONDON (ICIS)–Acquiring imports from Asia for European styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) market players remains a challenge amid ongoing logistical constraints. There has been some tightness in supply due to reduced imports from Asia.

INSIGHT: EU Russia oil ban will further drive global remapping of trade
By Tom Brown 05-May-22 19:11 LONDON (ICIS)–The European Commission’s proposed ban on Russian oil imports by the end of the year is more likely to drive further remapping of global trade flows than drive a spike in crude prices, but the pain could be more substantial in refined products markets.

Oil rises more than $1/bbl on supply worries; China woes cap gains
By Nurluqman Suratman 04-May-22 12:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Oil prices rose by more than $1/bbl on Wednesday on concerns over tight supply after industry data showed a drop in US crude and fuel inventories last week, but worries over poor manufacturing data from China capped gains.

PODCAST: Europe chemicals could face short periods of gas rationing this winter
By Will Beacham 03-May-22 22:12 BARCELONA (ICIS)–European chemical companies may be forced to cut gas use for short periods this winter if demand is very high and supply crimped, though steps are being taken to avoid this scenario.

Margin pressure to persist in European ethanolamines market
By Cameron Birch 03-May-22 21:33 LONDON (ICIS)–Two main questions dominate the European ethanolamines market as participants make forecasts for the rest of Q2 and into Q3. First, is the question of continued uncertainty linked to feedstock costs, and, second, is the uncertainty that surrounds the demand picture across the continent.

Europe ADA, capro, nylon markets to face slow demand in May
By Marta Fern 30-Apr-22 01:41 LONDON (ICIS)–European nylon 6 and 6,6 is facing soft demand in May, as the downstream automotive sector continues to struggle with shortages of vital components, seasonally slower fibres and yarns markets and high price points starting to have negative effect on buying interest, amid a cautious approach to stockholding levels.

Asia’s glycerine market to face upward pressure when China lifts its lockdowns
By Helen Yan 29-Apr-22 12:30 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s glycerine market is likely to face further upward price pressure when China lifts its lockdown measures, which is expected to be sometime in May.

PODCAST: China petrochemical trade face disruptions on lockdowns
By Nurluqman Suratman 29-Apr-22 11:16 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–In this episode of the podcast, information manager Yvonne Shi discusses with senior reporter Nurluqman Suratman the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns in China.

US Q1 GDP falls amid Omicron, supply chain disruptions
By Stefan Baumgarten 28-Apr-22 08:56 HOUSTON (ICIS)–US real GDP fell at an annual rate of 1.4% in Q1, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) said in an “advance estimate” of Q1 GDP on Thursday.

Asia’s ABS continues tumble since late March on poor end-use demand
By Angeline Soh 28-Apr-22 19:04 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) sentiment was down for the sixth week, as end-use consumption continued to dwindle from the lockdowns across major market, China, amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Asia Group II base oils supply short in Q2, China demand stifled on lockdowns
By Matthew Chong 28-Apr-22 15:12 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s Group II base oils supply is expected to remain tight for the rest of the second quarter on reduced production.

Asian butyl-A rebounds tracking China; outlook remains uncertain on COVID-19
By Li Li Chng 27-Apr-22 21:33 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asian butyl acrylate (butyl-A) prices rebounded following the recent firm China domestic price trend, but uncertainties about the development of COVID-19 in China after the Labour Holidays will likely keep players on their toes.

Oil prices fall $3/bbl on worries over China COVID-19 lockdowns
By Nurluqman Suratman 25-Apr-22 11:04 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Oil prices extended the previous week’s losses on Monday, with Brent crude down more than $3/bbl on worries that the prolonged COVID-19 lockdown in China’s largest city, Shanghai, will dent fuel demand.

INSIGHT: China MX market wave under pressure from crude and pandemic
By Veronica Zhang 25-Apr-22 10:00 SINGAPORE (ICIS) –After the Lunar New Year Holiday mixed xylenes (MX) prices in China surged on robust crude oil. However, MX prices fell back heavily in March as crude oil weakened and on the resurgence of the pandemic.

Asia PVC spot market weighed down by influx of China supply
By Jonathan Chou 22-Apr-22 11:59 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s polyvinyl chloride (PVC) spot market is being weighed down by an influx of material coming from China, where domestic consumption is hampered by lockdowns.

FOCUS: Dow’s European crackers switch to propane from naphtha
By Al Greenwood 22-Apr-22 02:00 HOUSTON (ICIS)–Dow’s crackers in Europe are relying on their flexibility to switch to propane feedstocks in response to the sharp rise in naphtha prices, the CFO said on Thursday.

China’s zero-COVID strategy dampens petrochemical demand
By Felicia Loo 20-Apr-22 12:28 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s petrochemical demand is being chipped away amid stifling COVID-19 lockdowns and supply-chain woes besetting the world.

Shanghai proposes to resume production against pandemic control to ease China’s supply disruption
By Yvonne Shi 19-Apr-22 14:19 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s chemical supply tightness is expected to last for a while amid transportation woes as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, though over the weekend Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization issued guidelines to resume work and production.

PODCAST: Demise of the quarterly chemicals contract
By Will Beacham 19-Apr-22 22:50 BARCELONA (ICIS)–Some chemical markets, especially in Europe, are shifting from quarterly to monthly contracts, driven by upstream volatility. Could this signal the demise of the quarterly contract? In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews ICIS head of market reporting, Barbara Ortner, ICIS Insight Editor Nigel Davis, and Paul Hodges, chairman of New Normal Consulting.

China MTBE exports surge as COVID-19 hits domestic demand
By Winnie Huang 19-Apr-22 17:57 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) exports in March-May are expected to reach up to 44,000 tonnes, as domestic suppliers divert their cargoes to overseas markets to ease heavy inventory pressure from coronavirus-hit demand.

PODCAST: Asia LAB mired in uncertainty as upstream markets roil sentiment
By Jasmine Khoo 19-Apr-22 12:07 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–In this episode of the ICIS Asia podcast, Jasmine Khoo speaks with Clive Ong, editor for the ICIS linear alkylbenzene (LAB) and linear alkylbenzene sulphonate (LAS) report, on recent developments in the regional market.

INSIGHT: China lockdowns to weigh on economy after moderate Q1 growth
By Pearl Bantillo 18-Apr-22 17:38 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Lockdowns in parts of China will weigh on the world’s second-biggest economy in the months ahead, after pulling a better-than-expected 4.8% annualized growth in the first quarter.

April extrusion-grade PC contract prices hit record high on rising energy costs
By Miguel Rodriguez Fernandez 14-Apr-22 17:31 LONDON (ICIS)–European extrusion-grade polycarbonate (PC) contract prices rose in April to a record high on the back of higher energy costs, according to market information gathered by ICIS. Extrusion-grade PC buyers claim they are facing serious problems to swallow new price rises as their margins are narrow and downstream buyers are resisting new increases. Besides, demand for some extrusion-grade PC applications is waning. That is the case for protective sheets, which used to be in demand in 2020 and 2021 to contain the spread of COVID-19.

INSIGHT: China’s COVID-19 lockdowns take toll on textile demand; MEG market slows to a standstill
By Judith Wang 14-Apr-22 10:00 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s widespread lockdowns amid its zero-COVID strategy have dealt a blow to downstream textile demand and weighed on spot monoethylene glycol (MEG) discussions, although stronger energy costs and regional supply cuts are providing some support to the MEG market.

INSIGHT: China’s Q1 PP market in ‘M’ shape; Q2 to see tight supply, uncertain demand
By Lucy Shuai 13-Apr-22 10:00 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s polypropylene (PP) market performed bearishly after an initial bull run in the first quarter of 2022, showing an overall ‘M’ shape. Following rises on the back of high upstream costs, the recurrence of the coronavirus in many parts of China has caused local authorities to escalate prevention and control measures, hindering demand and logistics and in turn dragging down domestic PP prices. Amid the cost pressure and rising Covid-19 infection cases, supply is expected to remain tight in the second quarter. But demand recovery depends on the pandemic.

China petrochemicals supply chain struggles amid pandemic curbs
By Fanny Zhang 12-Apr-22 14:33 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s entire petrochemical supply chain is facing strong headwinds due to tough pandemic-related restrictions in place at various production hubs, including Shanghai. Cargo deliveries were being hampered as truck drivers were avoiding places with high infection rates, where they would be stuck for 14 days of required quarantine. Cities that recorded spikes in COVID-19 cases caused by the more infectious Omicron variant are in different forms of lockdown, which may be prolonged as China is keeping to its zero-COVID policy. Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Shandong and Hebei are among the affected provinces.

US caustic soda bulk liquid freight rates jump out of the US Gulf
By Bill Bowen 09-Apr-22 03:10 HOUSTON (ICIS)–Liquid bulk cargo freight rates out of the US Gulf for liquid caustic soda, particularly to the Mediterranean, jumped higher during the week, moving up from about $100-120/dry metric tonne (dmt) to $180-200/dmt, or higher, depending on parcel size, according to export market participants. Demand for liquid chemical shipments to Europe from Asia, the US, Latin America and the Middle East is drying up the supply of bulk liquid carriers out of the US Gulf.

Sentiment for Asian spot BD discussions wavers on soft demand
By Ai Teng Lim 08-Apr-22 15:43 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asian spot discussions for butadiene (BD) have lost some ground this week, as some sellers moderated expectations slightly to induce buying and move some cargoes.

Asia fatty alcohols to be weighed on by Chinese demand slump, falling PKO
By Helen Yan 08-Apr-22 14:20 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s fatty alcohols market may face further downward pressure in the near term due to a slump in Chinese demand and declining feedstock palm kernel oil (PKO) prices. Fatty alcohols C12-14 prices have been trending down in recent weeks on declining feedstock PKO prices while Chinese demand has slumped amid renewed lockdowns to contain the spike in coronavirus infections.

INSIGHT: Gulf players look to Europe as Ukraine crisis continues, recession risk remains
By Will Beacham 05-Apr-22 22:20 BARCELONA (ICIS)–The war in Ukraine could see Gulf petrochemicals producers strengthen their collective footprint in Europe, as European buyers look for new import sources, but the risk of recession globally could still stand to cut demand for Middle East petrochemicals. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is understood to have led buyers in some European chemicals markets to look elsewhere for product, according to marker sources, opening up possibilities for Middle East exporters to seize market share.

Europe PX spot prices down on softer Asian market, OX spot values flatten
By Miguel Rodriguez Fernandez 04-Apr-22 18:27 LONDON (ICIS) — European paraxylene (PX) spot prices fell week on week on the back of lower values in the Asian PX market while orthoxylene (OX) pricing in Europe remained stable, according to market information gathered by ICIS. Trade for Asian PX physical cargoes and physical swaps declined last week, amid increasing market uncertainties, which pushed prices down in that region. New outbreaks of COVID-19 in China had interrupted production activities and disrupted supply chains, what had a negative impact on demand.

Asia PBT stable while volatile crude oil roils sentiment
By Clive Ong 01-Apr-22 10:14 SINGAPORE (ICIS–Asia’s polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) market is expected to remain uncertain in the near term amid the flux in the crude oil markets and lower demand in China, though for the time being prices are holding steady with lower trading activity.

Congestion at US ports could ease by end of year without further ‘jolts’ to the system
By Adam Yanelli 01-Apr-22 05:43 HOUSTON (ICIS)–Congestion at US ports could ease by year end as long as there are no more “jolts to the system”, but continued strong demand for goods by US consumers, new COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia and possible labour strife between shippers and West Coast dockworkers could make the issue persist.

Asia EVA demand buoyant on China PV sector growth, global recovery
By Helen Lee 31-Mar-22 19:02 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) demand outlook is buoyant amid growth in downstream photovoltaic (PV) sector in China despite new pandemic-related lockdowns in the country.

Oil falls by more $5/bbl on US’ reserves release plan, weak China data
By Nurluqman Suratman 31-Mar-22 11:19 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Oil futures slumped by more than $5/bbl on Thursday as the US is planning a massive release from its strategic reserves to calm the gasoline market, with overall sentiment further weighed down by weak China data.

Asia FAE market to soften into Q2 on higher Indonesia levies and China slowdown
By Helen Yan 28-Mar-22 16:52 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s fatty alcohol ethoxylates (FAE) market is likely to soften in the near term, due to declining feedstock fatty alcohol C12-14 costs and a slowing Chinese economy.

China petrochemical logistics woes worsen on Shanghai lockdown
By Fanny Zhang 28-Mar-22 16:34 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Further delays in petrochemical deliveries in China can be expected as Shanghai was placed under lockdown to contain surging COVID-19 cases in the metropolis.

Shanghai starts city-wide lockdown to fight pandemic
By Fanny Zhang 28-Mar-22 10:30 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s megacity of Shanghai announced the start of a two-phase lockdown and mass testing early Monday, in an effort to curb the worst outbreak of COVID-19 so far in the city.

Oil falls by more than $4/bbl as Shanghai lockdown fuels demand worries
By Nurluqman Suratman 28-Mar-22 10:12 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Oil prices fell by more than $4/bbl on Monday on fresh demand worries following news that local authorities have imposed a two-phased lockdown of Shanghai over nine days to control the spread of COVID-19.

SE Asia April PE import offers stable to firm; China lockdowns weigh on demand
By Izham Ahmad 25-Mar-22 11:37 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Initial spot import polyethylene (PE) offers for April shipments in southeast Asia were largely stable to firm, as gains in feedstock costs taper off and as demand in China also slows, opening the market up for arbitrage opportunities for cargoes re-exported from China.

PODCAST: Global melamine uncertainty ahead of Q2, European production costs remain high, Asia experiences demand issues, US supply remains tight
By Melissa Hurley 25-Mar-22 02:19 LONDON (ICIS)–European Melamine editor Melissa Hurley discusses the US supply situation, European production cost pressure from high gas prices and the future demand situation in Asia.

Asia LAB bolstered by surging crude markets while buyers hesitant
By Clive Ong 24-Mar-22 17:55  SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The Asian linear alky benzene (LAB) market was bolstered by rebounding crude oil prices this week. However, buyers remain slow to accept lofty offers by suppliers amid heightened uncertainty from the recent crude volatility. With crude markets likely to remain in a flux in the near term, the buy and sell gap between LAB buyers and sellers might need time to bridge.

Crude oil reverses early gains on profit-taking; supply worries remain
By Nurluqman Suratman 24-Mar-22 12:52 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Crude oil futures reversed early gains on Thursday as profit-taking ensued following strong increases overnight, but supply worries continue to support the market.

VIDEO: Asian acrylic acid and acrylate esters supported on supply gaps, COVID-19 in China dampens outlook
By Li Li Chng 24-Mar-22 17:31 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Watch ICIS senior editor Chng Li Li discuss the latest developments in the Asian acrylic acid (AA) and acrylate esters markets.

PODCAST: Asia, Middle East PE pipe grade markets grapple with upstream hikes, buying lags
By Jasmine Khoo 24-Mar-22 17:37 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–In this podcast, ICIS editors Jasmine Khoo and Hazel Goh discuss recent developments and outlook concerns for the Asia and Middle East polyethylene (PE) pipe grade markets.

Westbound transatlantic toluene, MX trade muted on higher European spot prices
By Zubair Adam 22-Mar-22 19:08 LONDON (ICIS)–The recent rise in European spot prices of toluene and mixed xylenes (MX) has kept the transatlantic arbitrage closed, with future crude prices expected to be impacted by the war in Ukraine.

Europe POM, PBT tightness to continue into Q2
By Yashas Mudumbai 22-Mar-22 19:17 LONDON (ICIS)–Market participants expect European polyacetal (POM) and polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) supply to remain tight heading into Q2, with demand from all sectors largely robust.



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