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LOGISTICS: Asia-US container rates fall; tanker rates stable to softer; bridge collapse causing delays
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Shipping container rates continue to fall, liquid chemical tanker rates are stable to softer, and the bridge collapse at the Port of Baltimore has led to longer delivery times for imports, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINER RATES Rates for shipping containers from east Asia and China to the US continue to fall along with average global rates as capacity remains ample to handle the longer routes as commercial vessels continue to avoid the Suez Canal. Supply chain advisors Drewry said average rates ticked lower this week but remain 64% higher than the same week a year ago, as shown in the following chart. Rates from Asia to the US and Europe have also continued to fall, as shown in the following chart. Drewry said it expects a minor decrease in Transpacific spot rates and for stability along the Transatlantic and Asia-Europe trade lanes. Judah Levine, head of research at online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos, said rates along the US East Coast have fallen since the collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore, which signals to him that regional container traffic continues to flow. Levine said downward pressure will continue because of soft demand and it being the slow season for container trade, but that if threats persist in the Red Sea and commercial vessels continue to divert away from the Suez Canal, prices will remain above normal. 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. PORT OF BALTIMORE The Unified Command (UC) continues to remove containers from the Dali and clear wreckage from the collapsed bridge at the entrance to the Port of Baltimore. Source: Key Bridge Response 2024 While the closure of the port has not had a direct impact on the flow of chemicals, a market participant in Ohio said it is seeing delays in delivery times for imports as vessels originally destined to offload in Baltimore are getting re-routed to other ports. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep by the end of April, and are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity. As of 11 April, approximately 38 containers have been removed, the UC said, which is necessary for safe access to them begin removing the segments of the fallen bridge that lie across the ship’s bow. While marine traffic is still limited, 69 vessels have transited through since the creation of the temporary alternate channels. LIQUID CHEM TANKERS US liquid chemical tanker freight rates as assessed by ICIS held mostly steady this week – except from the US Gulf Coast (USG) to India. There is downward pressure on rates along the USG-Asia trade lane as several outsiders have come on berth for both April and May, adding to the available tonnage for completion cargos. On the other hand, rates from the USG to Rotterdam were steady this week even as space is limited and there are no outsiders on berth. Contract tonnage continues to prevail, with continued interest in styrene, MTBE and ethanol. There has been activity on the spot market, but owners are still working with COA customers to finalize their needs before committing to others. For the USG to South America trade lane rates remain steady with several inquiries for methanol widely viewed in the market. PANAMA CANAL Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit edged higher both directions this week, according to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times last week were 0.8 days for northbound traffic and 0.8 days for southbound traffic. Please see the Logistics: Impact on chemicals and energy topic page With additional reporting by Emily Friedman and Kevin Callahan
Argentina’s inflation up to 288% in March, but central bank cuts rates on ‘pronounced slowdown’
SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Argentina’s annual rate of inflation rose to 287.9% in March, up from 276% in February, the country’s statistical agency Indec said on Friday. Month-on-month, the Consumer Price Index (IPC in its Spanish acronym) rose by 11.0%, a slowdown from the 13.2% monthly increase posted in February. It was the monthly slowdowns what prompted the country’s central bank to cut interest rates earlier this week. In the current inflation crisis, monthly price rises peaked in December, when the new government’s peso devaluation and the initial withdrawal of some subsidies caused prices to spike. It has been falling for the past three months thereafter. ARGENTINA MONTHLY INFLATION RATE In % change Source: Indec Some of the price increases in March, month on month, hit directly into consumers’ pockets, with squeezed Argentinians already stepping back from any big-ticket purchase. This, in turn, is causing a steep downturn in manufacturing, confirmed both by petrochemicals sources in Argentina and official statistics. “[In March, compared with February] The division with the greatest increase in the month was education (52.7%), due to the increases in fees at the start of the academic year. They were followed by communication (15.9%), due to increases in telephone and internet services, and housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (13.3%), due to increases in electricity service,” said Indec. “The division with the highest incidence in all regions was Food and non-alcoholic beverages (10.5%). Inside the division, the increases in meat and derivatives, milk, dairy products and eggs, vegetables, tubers and legumes, and bread and cereals.” ARGENTINA ANNUAL INFLATION RATEIn % change Source: Indec  UNORTHODOX CENTRAL BANKIn Argentina’s beleaguered economy, the old rulebook of economics may have stopped applying some time ago. The rulebook says that, to fight high inflation, central banks will increase borrowing costs to depress consumption and, with that, hopefully lower prices as firms compete for lower demand. Despite Argentina’s runaway annual rate of inflation, its central bank decided this week to lower interest rates to 70%, from 80%. “After the initial correction of relative prices in December 2023, a pronounced slowdown in inflation is observed, despite the strong statistical drag that inflation carries in its monthly averages,” said the Banco Central de la Republica Argentina (BCRA). “More frequent price surveys have been useful to appreciate end-to-end monthly dynamics. In the coming months, measurements of underlying or core inflation will take on greater relevance in the diagnosis of the trajectory of inflation, in view of the announced adjustments to regulated tariffs for public services.” The bank was referring there to the withdrawal of several subsidies for companies and households alike which, in view of the new Argentinian government of Javier Milei, distorted competition and the economy. Front page picture source: Shutterstock
VIDEO: Europe R-PET colourless flake rise in NWE, UK while Polish bales fall
LONDON (ICIS)–Senior Editor for Recycling, Matt Tudball, discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: Colourless (C) flake prices rise in NWE, UK EU Commission definitive ADD on Chinese PET, R-PET come into force Polish C bales drop from March highs Food-grade pellet demand uncertain ahead of 2025

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VIDEO: Gas In Focus energy highlights
LONDON (ICIS)–Gas In Focus deputy-editor Marta Del Buono and market expert Aura Sabadus discuss Turkey’s long-standing ambition of becoming a regional gas hub and how it has been hindered by lack of price deregulation and political tensions. The spike in gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made coal and renewables more competitive hurting gas’s chances to play a greater role in the country.
Crude demand expectations fall for 2024 as trends shift back to pre-COVID pattern – IEA
LONDON (ICIS)–The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Friday cut crude oil demand forecasts for the year, with rates expected to fall further next year as consumption returns to the pre-COVID-19 trend, increasing the odds of a peak in oil consumption this decade, the agency said. The IEA expects crude demand growth to average 1.2 million barrels/day this year, an increase from October projections of 900,000 barrels/day but a decline from the 1.3 million barrels/day projected in its monthly oil market report in March. This level of growth is expected to slow next year to 1.1 million barrels/day, representing a shift back to the trajectory of crude demand before the pandemic, increasing the chances that global demand will peak this decade, according to the agency. “Global oil demand growth is currently in the midst of a slowdown… bringing a peak in consumption into view this decade,” said Toril Bosoni, IEA head of oil industry, and markets and oil market analyst Ciaran Healy. “This is primarily the result of a normalization of growth following the disruptions of 2020-2023, when oil markets were shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic and then the global energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” they added. Global crude oil demand 2011-25 (Source: IEA) Increasing fuel efficiency standards and electric vehicles comprising a larger chunk of the auto market are also affecting the rate of oil demand growth, the IEA added. Crude supply growth is expected to average 770,000 barrels/day this year, led by non-OPEC sources, particularly the US, offsetting a projected 820,0000 barrel/day decline year on year from OPEC+ cuts. Production growth could firm to 1.6 million barrels/day next year. Despite the projected demand declines this year, compared with growth of 2.3 million barrels/day in 2023, pricing has risen sharply in recent weeks, up by $8/barrel from early March to more than $90/barrel this week, on heightened geopolitical tensions and the prospect of a tighter supply-demand balance this year. “Russian refinery outages added to product market unease, while OPEC+ put pressure on some countries to increase compliance with agreed voluntary production cuts through Q2 2024,” the IEA said in its latest monthly oil market report. “Escalating oil supply security concerns are set against a backdrop of solid global oil demand growth of 1.6 million barrels/day in the first quarter and a more upbeat outlook for the global economy,” the agency added. In its latest oil forecast released this week, OPEC left GDP and crude demand growth expectations unchanged at 2.8% and 2.2 million barrels/day respectively. Thumbnail photo: An oil pump jack at the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas play, Argentina. Source: Matias Baglietto/NurPhoto/Shutterstock 
ICIS Innovation Awards 2024 now open for entries
BARCELONA (ICIS)–Entries are now open for the 2024 ICIS Innovation Awards, a celebration of chemical industry achievements around the world. Even in today’s challenging environment, the companies that will emerge as tomorrow’s winners are today investing in innovation to keep their pipeline of new products alive and thriving. Each year we receive entries from around the world from teams that want to have their successes celebrated and recognized across the industry. This year ICIS will recognize the winning entries with a lunch at London’s Savoy Hotel on 15 October. The drive towards net zero carbon is so important that almost all the entries help in some way to drive the industry in the right direction. Make sure your entry is concise, detailed and complete It should have the “Wow” factor Stage of commercialization is important: judges admire innovations with “steel in the ground” Impact on society and the chemical industry: the broader the potential impact the better Evidence of partnerships along supply chains: these are important in the drive to net zero To get the top award you need to offer something that is really different and truly innovative There are several categories to choose from that should allow companies of all sizes to have a fair chance to win. Best Product Innovation from an SME Best Product Innovation from a Large Company Best Process Innovation from an SME Best Process Innovation from a Large Company Best Digital Innovation from an SME and Large Company To enter the awards click here to register on the ICIS Innovation Awards portal.
India’s Mundra Petrochemical taps Nuberg to build chlor-alkali plant
MUMBAI (ICIS)–Indian producer Mundra Petrochemicals Ltd has awarded engineering services company Nuberg EPC a contract to build its new 2,200 tonne/day chlor-alkali project in the western Gujarat state. “The project entails construction of the caustic soda plant within the 1m tonnes/year green polyvinyl chloride (PVC) project in Mundra, Gujarat,” Nuberg said in a statement on 11 April. Nuberg expects to complete the project within 15 months, without disclosing financial details of the contract. Nuberg EPC is a global engineering and turnkey project management company based in Noida in the northern Uttar Pradesh state. Mundra Petrochemical is a subsidiary of Adani Enterprises Ltd, which is owned by major Indian conglomerate Adani Group. The caustic soda project forms part of the Adani Group’s 2m tonne/year greenfield PVC project in Mundra. In March 2023, the company halted construction of the PVC project as it worked to secure project funding. A consortium of banks led by state-owned State Bank of India had agreed in July last year to finance a significant part of the company’s PVC project, according to media reports. The project involves setting up a 2m tonnes/year PVC plant in two phases with the first phase expected to be commissioned in the fiscal year ending March 2026.
USDA calling for smaller ending corn stocks in April WASDE
HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is calling for smaller ending corn stocks, while for soybeans it is forecasting higher ending supply, according to the April World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. For the corn outlook the monthly update is projecting not only the lower amount of ending stocks but also greater usage of the crop for ethanol and feed and residual use. Corn used for ethanol is being raised by 25 million bushels to stand at 5.4 billion bushels based on data through February from the Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report and weekly ethanol production data as reported by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Feed and residual use is also being increased by 25 million bushels to 5.7 billion bushels based on indicated disappearance during the December-February quarter. With no supply changes and use rising, the WASDE said ending stocks are now projected lowered by 50 million bushels to 2.1 billion bushels. The USDA said season-average farm price received by producers is now down by 5 cents to $4.70 per bushel. For soybeans, the outlook for supply and use not only expects higher ending stocks but also lower imports, residual use and exports. The monthly update said the soybean trade is being reduced on the pace seen to date and expectations for future shipments. With the trade changes and slightly lower residual, soybean ending stocks are raised by 25 million bushels to 340 million bushels. The agency said the season-average soybean price is now forecasted lower by 10 cents to $12.55 per bushel. The next WASDE report will be released on 10 May.
VIDEO: European gas market highlights week 15
Additional reporting by Ed Martin LONDON (ICIS)–Deputy European gas editor Ed Martin and deputy Gas in Focus editor Marta Del Buono discuss European gas highlights from week 15 Snowpack surplus may curb Italian power and gas prices Italy increases TAG gas imports in March amid low Austrian VTP prices Wider TTF-NBP May ’24 spread needed for reverse BBL flows
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