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MUMBAI (ICIS)–India’s central bank maintained its benchmark interest rate on Thursday, along with its GDP growth projection for the fiscal year 2023-2024 at 6.5% amid easing inflationary pressures. This was the second time that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) maintained the repurchase (repo) rate unchanged at 6.5%, after delivering six consecutive rate hikes since May 2022. “The cumulative rate hike of 250 basis points undertaken by the monetary policy committee (MPC) is transmitting through the economy and its fuller impact should keep inflationary pressures contained in the coming months,” RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said. The committee also retained its 6.5% GDP growth forecast for the fiscal year ending March 2024 at 6.5%, with quarterly growth projected to slow down steadily from a high of 8% in the first quarter. Retail inflation for the current fiscal year is projected at 5.1%, down from 5.2% projected in April. “We need to move towards our inflation target of 4%,” Das said adding that the inflation is expected to remain above 4% during the current financial year. “Headline inflation is projected to decline in 2023-24 from its level in 2022-23 but would still be above the target, warranting continuous vigil,” he said. In April, the consumer price index-based (CPI) inflation had declined to an 18-month low of 4.7%. While India’s economic activity has remained resilient and has surpassed previous projections, the same cannot be said of the global economy, Das said. India recorded a GDP growth of 7.2% in 2022-23, beating earlier estimates of a 7% growth. “RBI recognises that the pace of global economic activity is expected to decelerate on the back of elevated inflation, geo-political tension and tight financial conditions,” Das said.
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest crude exporter, is expected to post a slower GDP growth of 2.1% this year in view of production cuts announced in April, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The country’s additional voluntary oil production cut of 1m bbl/day in July with a possible extension, could further weigh on its economic outlook. In April, it announced a voluntary output cut of 500,000 bbl/day announced. IMF’s revised forecast was a full percentage point lower than the previous projection of 3.1% and represents a sharp deceleration from the 8.7% growth posted in 2022, the global financial stability watchdog said in a statement following a periodic review of the Saudi economy. Saudi Arabia posted the fastest GDP growth among the Group of 20 (G20) biggest economies last year, according to the IMF. “On the upside, higher oil prices—as expectations of strong oil demand for the rest of the year persist—possible change in OPEC+ oil production cuts and accelerated structural reforms and investment could spur growth,” the IMF said. The Saudi Arabia-led oil cartel OPEC and its allies (OPEC+), including Russia, had in place oil output cuts of 3.66m bbl/day, comprising a 2m bbl/day cut agreed last year from August 2022 production levels, and a further 1.66m bbl/day of voluntary cuts from nine OPEC+ countries. “On the downside, lower oil prices due to subdued global activity represent a key short-term risk while a quicker shift in demand for fossil fuel could hamper growth in the medium to long term,” the IMF said. Saudi Arabia’s output cut pledge was largely seen as an effort to support weakening oil prices. At 07:02 GMT, oil prices were steady with upside from Saudi Arabia’s output cut being offset by demand concerns amid a global economic slowdown. Product Latest Previous Change Brent August 76.99 76.95 0.04 WTI July 72.59 72.53 0.06 While the production cuts would reduce overall economic growth in Saudi Arabia, non-oil growth is expected to average 5% this year “and remain above potential as strong consumption spending and accelerated project implementation boost demand”, it said. “Overall growth reached 8.7% [in 2022], reflecting both strong oil production and a 4.8% non-oil GDP growth driven by robust private consumption and non-oil private investment, including giga projects.” it said. “Wholesale, retail trade, construction, and transport were the main drivers of non-oil growth,” the IMF said. Despite robust economic activity, inflation remains low and appears to be easing, it said. Saudi Arabia’s average consumer price index rose by 2.5% year on year in 2022, in part contained by domestic subsidies and a strong US dollar. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman ($1 = SR3.75)
LONDON (ICIS)–The Spanish ministry of ecological transition (MITECO) announced on 5 June that it granted €100m to seven large electrolyser projects to produce renewable hydrogen. The projects awarded are estimated to have a total electrolyser capacity of 270MW, and should been initiated within three years from the date of the funding announcement. The program has awarded aid for amounts of €10m and €15m to seven projects in five autonomous communities: Andalusia (3), Valencia, Asturias, Galicia and Castilla-La Mancha. The funding was promoted under the third part of the H2 Value Chain H2 (Cadena de Valor), designed to promote both the development of electrolysis and initiatives for the integration of large capacity electrolysers in areas where decarbonization is more challenging, such as industry or heavy transport. REGULATIONS SUPPORTING HYDROGEN The funding was part of the Recovery, Transformation, and Resilience Plan’s Strategic Project for the Recovery and Economic Transformation of Renewable Energies, Renewable Hydrogen, and Storage (PERTE ERHA) as well as in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience plan (PERTE). The Spanish Council of Ministers has approved on 6 June an addendum to the Spanish Recovery and Resilience Plan, which includes additional investments for several fields, including for projects under PERTEs. The addendum will be sent to the EC in the next days for evaluation and possible approval. Spain had designed a hydrogen roadmap, which is revised every three years, to promote the usage of renewable hydrogen in the country. Additionally, Spain had approved several climate targets involving the blending or usage of hydrogen in the past years. The country aims to have hydrogen account for 25% of total energy consumed by industry and to install 4GW of electrolyser power by 2030.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (ICIS)–Technological advances and innovation will do much of the heavy lifting needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while international diplomacy will likely fall short, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations said on Tuesday. The shortcomings of international diplomacy are part of a larger trend of the deteriorating of global relations. Global trade is withering. Individual US states are adopting policy in the midst of federal deadlock, leading to a patchwork of regulations. WEAKENING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSThe shortcomings of global diplomacy manifested themselves in how the world brought the coronavirus pandemic under control, said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He made his comments to the annual meeting of the American Chemistry Council (ACC). “How did we get past COVID-19? It was not, for the most part, through international cooperation,” Haass said. Instead, it was through the development of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines and web-based meeting applications like Zoom. “We managed this international crisis more through technology than through collective public policy,” he said. He expects something similar will happen for climate change. Haass said he has little confidence that international forums such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). People will not put the collective good over that of their nations. Haass’ comments have profound implications for chemical companies. He did not discuss it, but members of the UN are negotiating a treaty that would address plastic waste. Based on Haass’s comments, technology such as mechanical and chemical recycling would have a better chance of addressing plastic waste than a global treaty. Moreover, problems such as plastic waste and climate change will be addressed by technology and the companies that develop it. Chemical companies are developing the process technology that can chemically recycle difficult plastics into feedstock. They are developing materials needed to produce renewable energy and green hydrogen as well as to manufacture electric vehicles (EVs) and the batteries that power them. For climate change, Haass said corporations will play a larger role. TRADE POLICY WITHERSIn the US, Haass said the nation has lacked a trade policy under the former president, Donald Trump, and the current president, Joe Biden. “There is no real difference between the two administrations. There is more continuity than you think,” he said. With that, Haass doubts that any major trade deals will not happen. The US will not join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Instead, the US will pursue mini-trade deals, he said. It may even avoid mentioning trade at all. This has implications for US chemical producers because they export so much of their output. For polyethylene (PE), the US needs to export around 40-45% of total production to keep the market balanced. Trade agreements could make it more difficult and expensive to export excess plastics and chemicals. If the US maintains its antipathy towards trade, it could make it harder for the chemical industry to achieve some of its policy goals, such as the restoration of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). NEW WORLD DISORDERThe world order that existed during the past several decades has ended, according to Haass. “The post Cold War era has run its course. We’re in something new.” Haass calls it the new world disorder. To illustrate, he compared how the world responded to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 30 years later. Adding to that disorder is the increased chaos of US foreign policy, Haass said. Because of increased partisanship, the nation’s two political parties have starkly different policies about international relations, a departure from the years in which they differed little in regards to foreign affairs. The consequence is that US foreign policy could swing widely if a new party gains power, Haass said. “For those who count on us, we are a far less predictable and reliable partner.” US PARTISANSHIP TRANSFERS POWER TO STATESThe growing partisanship and divide between the two major parties in the US is transferring policy-making from the national level to the state level, Haass said. On the federal level, divided government and a finely divided legislative branch makes it difficult to pass policy that addresses problems such as pollution, chemical management and climate change. State governments are stepping in the void, since they have become more uniform. “The action will move away from Washington and more to the states,” Haass said. State policy will vary, and chemical companies will have to contend with a patchwork of regulations making it more costly to do business. This trend was already apparent when states passed their own laws governing the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a family of blowing agents used by polyurethane producers. HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, and they are being replaced by hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). The ACC Annual Meeting runs through 7 June. Insight article by Al Greenwood Thumbnail shows hands holding globe of tree. Image by Shutterstock.
Argentina’s YPF to focus on oil and gas exports from Vaca Muerta first, petchems projects later – exec
BUENOS AIRES (ICIS)–YPF is focused now on “monetising” its shale crude oil and natural gas reserves at the Vaca Muerta formation by exporting as much as it can, with petrochemicals projects potentially developed later, an executive at the Argentinian energy major said on Wednesday. Ariel Andreucci, head of strategy and investments at YPF, said the sheer natural gas reserves at Vaca Muerta – estimated at 300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) (8.5 trillion cubic meters) – would allow Argentina to take an opportunity to develop its crude oil and gas industry by exporting it globally. This could happen because Argentina’s consumption is projected at 1.5 tcf/year for decades to come, added Andreucci. Vaca Muerta is a geologic formation from the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous eras in the Neuquen Basin in northern Patagonia, Argentina, and is the host rock for major deposits of shale oil and shale gas. “Petrochemicals will continue to be a key consumer of crude oil and natural gas derivatives for years to come, well past 2050,” said Andreucci. “Considering Argentina’s consumption is expected at 1.5 tcf/year, we would have reserves for 200 years. This would allow us to sell to overseas markets around 3 tcf/year in decades to come. It is a great opportunity for YPF but also for Argentina’s economy.” Andreucci was speaking at an event organised by the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA). Pressed on potential petrochemicals projects, which could make Argentina a net exporter of polymers just like the US has become after its own shale gas boom, Andreucci was more cautious, preferring to focus on the upstream side of the business. He said, however, that there is a “latent” potential for petrochemicals business in Argentina. “Monetisation is always done at scale. First, you find the resources and make them available for export. At YPF, we also have some added problems to get credit for projects [given Argentina’s financial woes], so we must use our own cashflow to finance new projects,” said Andreucci. “We must be careful at this stage, capturing opportunities at hand, and this could be the springboard to think about petrochemical projects. We have the resources, and we must know how to take advantage of them: we have a window of opportunity now [exporting crude oil and natural gas] and we have to take advantage of that first.” The APLA Logistics event runs in Buenos Aires on 6-7 June.
LONDON (ICIS)–TotalEnergies is ramping up production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at its biorefinery in Grandpuits, France ahead of the Paris Air Show. Total is more than doubling annual SAF production capacity at the site to 285,000 tonnes/year compared to the initial capacity announced in 2020. Total entered into an agreement with organic feedstock specialist SARIA last year to develop SAF production at the Grandpuits biorefinery. All jet fuel supplied at EU airports will be required to have a minimum SAF blend of 2% from 2025, as per EU mandates. This will increase to 6% by 2030, 20% by 2035 and 34% by 2040, before attempting to hit 70% by 2050. “The zero-crude platform at Grandpuits will be a major French site for the production of sustainable aviation fuel, which is the most effective solution for immediately cutting CO2 emissions from air transport. These new projects further strengthen the site’s conversion, toward sustainability, decarbonization and the circular economy,” said Bernard Pinatel, President, Refining & Chemicals at TotalEnergies. The company is also investing in a biomethane production unit at the biorefinery, which will have an annual capacity of 80 GWh/year. Organic waste from the biorefinery will serve as the primary feedstock for the biomethane unit. The biomethane unit will contribute to Total’s aim of making Grandpuits a zero-crude platform through utilising several low carbon technologies. The French oil and gas giant also aims to solidify its position as a leading biogas producer in France with its biomethane investment. Sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) are aviation-specific biofuels produced from waste and residues from circular economy-based feedstocks such as animal fats, used cooking oils, etc. to reduce CO2 emissions from air transport. Synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, can be another form of SAF. Thumbnail picture: Paris Charles de Gaulle airport (Source: Mickael Chavet/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson. “When the facts change, I change my mind,” said the great economist John Maynard Keynes. Over the last few months, we’ve seen consensus opinion lining up behind the warnings I’ve been giving on China’s economic growth since 2011. We can see further evidence of the slowdown in China’s high density polyethylene (HDPE) markets where demand looks set to be 4% lower this year than in 2022. Now we need to turn our attention to what happens next and challenge the conventional thinking that China will never reach anywhere close to self-sufficiency in polyethylene (PE). As the main chart in today’s post – https://lnkd.in/gmH_wExX – shows: The ICIS Base Case assumes that China’s HDPE net imports will total 126m tonnes in 2023-2040, based on annual average demand growth of 2% and an operating rate of 76%. But if you take growth down to 1% – which I see as perfectly possible because China’s demand has grown too quickly – and with an operating rate again at 76% net imports would fall to 38m tonnes. Then if you repeat the historic operating rate of 90% with demand growth at 1%, net imports during the forecast period would fall to 7m tonnes. In the years to come, China might decide to run its HDPE plants hard in order to boost export earnings and increase supply security for geopolitical reasons, even when standalone plant economics appear to point in the opposite direction. What happens outside any HDPE plant gate anywhere in the world is also important. HDPE plants can be run harder than their standalone economics appear to justify in order balance production, profitability and contract commitments across big integrated complexes. “China previously committed to a target of 50% of electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035, but this ambition already seems obsolete, as we project that the share of EVs in the passenger car market will exceed 50% and surpass traditional energy cars before 2030,” wrote ING Think in a 28 February article. As China pushes towards a 2060 target for carbon neutrality, might some of its refinery capacity eventually have to shut down, thereby creating shortages of petrochemicals feedstocks? Or perhaps up until 2040, refinery capacity will be maintained with locally produced gasoline and diesel exported in bigger quantities. This would lead to ample naphtha to make ethylene and then HDPE. “Nonsense,” we can imagine some people saying, “there is no way China can become virtually HDPE self-sufficient”. Maybe. But history has taught us the perils of conventional thinking and the value of scenario planning where we are prepared for a worst-case outcome. And remember: Some people used to say that the idea of a big economic slowdown in China was nonsense. Editor’s note: This blog post is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS.
HOUSTON (ICIS)–A US federal judge has vacated a set of approvals issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) authorising the development of Bayer’s phosphate mine in southeastern Idaho. While environmental groups are welcoming the decision, the company believes the judgement was in error and said it could possibly appeal. Phosphate supply from the Caldwell Canyon mine is used as part of the manufacturing of glyphosate, most commonly known as the active ingredient in the Roundup brand of herbicide, which has caused concern from environmental groups, who have taken legal action previously against the project. In a decision on 2 June by US District Court in Idaho, it was ruled that any economic burdens caused by vacating the mine approvals were outweighed by the need to ensure the ruling did not incentivise parties to invest heavily in possibly illegal projects only to use the economic consequences as an excuse. The court wiped away the approvals for the new open-pit phosphate mine, the phosphate use permit and the rights-of-ways for a road, water pipeline, fibre optic line and powerline. It also vacated the agency’s environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The decision follows the court’s ruling back in January that the BLM had violated that act and Federal Land Policy Management Act when it approved the phosphate mine without first analysing, restricting, mitigating or eliminating impacts to greater sage grouse, such as harms to habitat and population connectivity. “This strip mine would’ve cut through the heart of crucial habitat for greater sage grouse and other species all in service of producing a pesticide that is itself pushing our most endangered wildlife closer to extinction,” said Hannah Connor, Center for Biological Diversity attorney. “Now sage grouse have a fighting chance at continuing to dance their age-old dances in this place. And the government can’t go on arbitrarily ignoring the environmental harms of phosphate mining.” For their part, Bayer has a different viewpoint on the court’s decision but said it will not have any impact to current supplies of product. “We respectfully disagree with the ruling against the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and we are assessing our next steps, which could include pursuing an appeal,” said a Bayer spokesperson. “This litigation and ruling are specific to a future supply source, the Caldwell Canyon Mine, which we plan to have operational in the next few years.” Further commenting on the ruling, Bayer said “we believe the court’s decision to vacate the BLM’s approvals is excessive. Experts at the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a multiyear science-based assessment before issuing the mine permit.” “We believe the few specific deficiencies the court identified in the BLM’s assessment can and should be fully addressed expeditiously.” Bayer said it is their position that the Caldwell Canyon mine has the potential to be the most innovative and environmentally protective mine in the US and that the nearby Soda Springs, Idaho, community, local conservation groups and other key stakeholders have supported the development and contributed to the planning process.
HOUSTON (ICIS)–The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting the 2023 seasonal Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone, frequently referred to as the ‘dead zone’, to be below average, with the estimate at approximately 4,155 square miles. The average over the 36-year history of dead zone measurements is at 5,364 square miles and since records began, the largest hypoxic zone measured was 8,776 square miles in 2017. The US Geological Survey (USGS) provided Mississippi river discharge and nutrient loading data for the month of May, which were both key factors used to estimate the size of the dead zone. Last month, discharge in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers was about 33% below the long-term average between 1980 and 2022, and the nitrate and phosphorus loads were about 42% and 5% below the long-term averages, respectively. The Gulf’s hypoxic (low oxygen) and anoxic (oxygen-free) zones are caused by excess nutrient pollution, which researchers attribute to being primarily from human activities such as agriculture and wastewater occurring in the watershed. It was first documented in 1985 off the coast of Louisiana and there has been research that consistently identifies farmland fertilizer run-off as being the main cause of the dead zone. Yet there is further evidence which demonstrates that urban areas, human waste treatment, precipitation and atmospheric dust as well as natural sources also contribute large amounts. With excess nutrients in the ocean there then becomes an overgrowth of algae, which sinks and decomposes. This causes low oxygen levels which are then insufficient to support most marine life and habitats. “NOAA hypoxia forecasts aim to provide coastal managers and stakeholders with the information they need to take proactive action to mitigate the impacts of hypoxic events,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA Assistant Administrator of National Ocean Service. “These forecasts also help managers set nutrient reduction targets necessary to reduce the frequency and magnitude of future dead zones.” The Interagency Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force have set a goal of reducing the dead zone to 1,900 square miles by 2035. “With new investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Hypoxia Task Force is taking action to accelerate nutrient load reductions from the Mississippi River Basin and reduce the size of the hypoxic zone,” said Brian Frazer, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director of the Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. “Together the task force will continue to tackle the challenge of Gulf Hypoxia. This annual forecast is a key metric that informs our collective efforts.” To confirm the size of the hypoxic zone and refine the forecast models, a NOAA-supported monitoring survey is conducted each summer, with results released in early August.
BUENOS AIRES (ICIS)–Brazil’s automotive producers ramped up production in May as they prepare for higher demand on the back of a government plan to spur sales, the country’s trade group Anfavea said on Tuesday. Automotive production rose by 27.4% in May compared with April, and rose by 10.7% year on year, Anfavea added. Sales rose month on month, but decreased year on year. According to Anfavea, the year-on-year fall was due to consumers postponing purchases ahead of the implementation of the government plan. In May, Brazil’s cabinet announced a plan to implement tax breaks on purchases of vehicles worth up to Brazilian reais (R) 120,000 ($24,440). CONSUMERS AWAIT PLANDuring May, 176,500 vehicles were registered in Brazil, up 9.8% compared with April, but 5.6% down year on year, said Anfavea. The government plan was published this week and its full implementation is due later this month. Because of that, Anfavea said car sales had sharply slowed down in the second half of May, immediately after the plan was announced. Anfavea said many car producers are already increasing their inventories in anticipation of strong demand from this month onward. “These production and internal market movements generated for the first time in three years a stock level that only existed before the pandemic, with more than 250,000 units in the courtyards of factories and concessionaires,” said Anfavea. “Those volumes [will] tends to be drained quickly, now that the discounts of R2,000 to R8,000 offered by the federal government are valid, in addition to any reductions offered by automakers.” GOVERNMENT TO THE RESCUEThe new plan by the Brazilian government has been welcome news for the automotive industry, which had for months been in the doldrums as high interest rates and an economic slowdown put potential customers off purchasing big-ticket items such as vehicles. Soon after the plan’s announcement, Anfavea said car sales could rise nearly 20% in 2023, compared with 2022, due to the tax breaks. On Tuesday, the trade group invited Brazil’s vice president and minister for development and industry, Geraldo Alckmin, to its monthly press conference. “We are very optimistic about the consumers’ response, with the preservation of employment and with the strengthening of automobile industry, which represents 20% of the manufacturing sector and employs around 1.2m people,” said Alckmin. ($1 = R4.91)
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