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BLOG: European voters rally to the centre as external threats increase
LONDON (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Chemicals & The Economy by Paul Hodges, which looks at Europe’s political centre. 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. Paul Hodges is the chairman of consultants New Normal Consulting.
PODCAST: Europe PET, R-PET face uncertain H2 2024
LONDON (ICIS)–Senior editor for polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Caroline Murray, and senior editor for Recycling, Matt Tudball, discuss the current state of the PET and recycled PET (R-PET) markets and the uncertainties that both face for the rest of the year, including: Lower-than-expected PET demand PET exports head out of Europe High freight costs hit imports Upcoming recycled content targets for R-PET Lack of clarity about recycling legislation Limited availability of food-grade R-PET pellets
Europe top stories: weekly summary
LONDON (ICIS)–Here are some of the top stories from ICIS Europe for the week ended 19 July. Europe PX to face weaker downstream demand, support from higher freight costs The European paraxylene (PX) industry is heading towards the second half of the year sandwiched between the news of structural downstream production cuts and the temporary support from high freight rates from Asia, which is making domestic production of PX derivatives more appealing than imports. Ursula von der Leyen wins second term for top EU job, stresses need for EU competitiveness Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday secured her re-election to a second five-year term as President of the European Commission, and identified competitiveness as the most pressing issue facing the EU. Europe BDO demand recovery in 2024 unlikely, logistics disruptions in focus After the uptick in domestic consumption during H1 2024 compared to prior expectations, the European butanediol (BDO) market is expecting a return to lacklustre demand trends with trade flow challenges still a key factor in dynamics. Europe MX H2 demand remains mired in deep waters Demand for mixed xylenes (MX) in the European market was subdued in the first half of the year, with the outlook remaining bearish for the rest of 2024. Europe shows shoots of recovery as market bottoms out – IMF Strong service sector performance and robust exports through 2024 amid cooling inflation points to the eurozone economy bottoming out following the emergence of tentative green shoots during the first quarter of the year, the IMF said. Freight chaos, trade dispute could support EU epoxy in H2, rebound unlikely Deep-sea freight and logistical challenges, along with the EU antidumping probe on several Asian epoxy imports could trigger shifts in favour of local sourcing in the second half of the year, although optimism remains low regarding any recovery in a still difficult climate.

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India’s RIL fiscal Q1 oil-to-chemicals earnings fall 14% on poor margins
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Reliance Industries Ltd’s (RIL) oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business posted a 14.3% year-on-year drop in earnings in its fiscal first quarter ending June 2024 on poor chemicals margins, the Indian conglomerate said. O2C results in 10 million rupees (Rs) Apr-June 2024 Apr-June 2023 % Change Revenue 157,133 133,031 18.1 EBITDA 13,093 15,286 -14.3 Exports 71,463 69,006 3.6 – Revenue for the period rose primarily on the back of higher product prices in line with Brent crude price gains, and increased volumes due to strong domestic demand, the company said on 19 July. – Fiscal Q1 overall earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) margin dropped to 8.3% from 11.5% in the same period of last year. – On a year-on-year basis, April-June domestic polymer and polyester demand increased by 8% and 5%, respectively. – RIL’s consolidated group profit after tax fell by 4% year on year to Rp175 billion ($2.09 billion) in April-June 2024. Polymers- Fiscal Q1 polymer margins were down by 0.5% to 16.9% year on year due to firm naphtha prices. Product margin over naphtha April-June 2024 ($/tonne) April-June 2023 ($/tonne) % Change Polyethylene (PE) 330 397 -16.9% Polypropylene (PP) 318 381 -16.5% Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 371 373 -0.5% Polyester – Paraxylene (PX) and monoethylene glycol (MEG) margins over naphtha decreased year on year due to higher naphtha prices. – “PTA [purified terephthalic acid] margins were impacted adversely due to high inventory with Chinese producers and increased competition,” the company said. – On a year-on-year basis, domestic polyester demand in fiscal Q1 increased by 5%, driven by strong growth in PET, which was up 27% due to “higher demand from the beverage segment on account of summer season and elections”. ($1 = Rs83.7)
UPDATE: Australia’s Woodside bets on Tellurian buy to expand global LNG portfolio
Seeks optimization opportunities Saudi Aramco also said interested in Tellurian Woodside has busy development plans SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Australian producer Woodside Energy said it would buy all outstanding shares of US LNG developer Tellurian and Driftwood LNG for approximately $900 million at $1.00 per share in an all-cash deal for a transaction valued at $1.2 billion, according to a 22 July news release . “It adds a scalable US LNG development opportunity to our existing approximately 10mtpa of equity LNG in Australia. Having a complementary US position would allow us to better serve customers globally and capture further marketing optimisation opportunities across both the Atlantic and Pacific Basins,” Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill said in the release. “The Driftwood LNG development opportunity is competitively advantaged. Woodside expects to leverage its global LNG expertise to unlock this fully permitted development and expand our relationship with Bechtel, which is the EPC contractor for both Driftwood LNG and our Pluto Train 2 project in Australia.” Tellurian’s board recommended shareholders approve the transaction and provided further details in a news release. As reported, ICIS noted that Tellurian was in play in late June, and  Woodside was said to be vying with Saudi Aramco for the project. Tellurian has struggled for years with the proposed 27.6mtpa Driftwood project, going through management and financial changes that included cancellation of LNG supply deals. But Driftwood, near Lake Charles, Louisiana, is a fully permitted, pre-final investment decision (FID) prospect, that includes Phase 1 (11mtpa) and Phase 2 (5.5mtpa). Woodside is likely targeting FID readiness for Phase 1 from the first quarter of 2025. O’Neill repeated to an investor briefing on 22 July that the transaction positions Woodside to be a “global LNG powerhouse”. The company aims to use a mix of offtake from Driftwood into its own marketing portfolio and retain tolling volumes while it works on selecting “high-quality partners” to scale up initial operations and eventually sell down its stake to around 50%, O’Neill told investors on a call. Sources said Saudi Aramco could be among possible investors. Woodside reports second quarter earnings on 23 July. BUSY WOODSIDE Last week, Woodside said that talks with Timor Leste (East Timor) on developing a “mutually beneficial and commercially viable “Greater Sunrise field has made progress with finer details to be unveiled in a concept Study being undertaken by Wood PL due “no later than the fourth quarter of this year.” The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and the Commonwealth of Australia, along with the Sunrise Joint Venture (comprising TimorGAP (56.56%), Woodside (33.44% and Operator), and Osaka Gas (10%)) are pleased to provide an update on Greater Sunrise negotiations. Offshore natural gas and condensate resources were first discovered in 1974, and located near a feed gas source to Australia at Bayu-Undan, which faces declining supply. Yet, the fields remain undeveloped as the stakeholders differ on the fiscal terms and the location of the downstream operations. According to a report released in May 2018 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the pipeline from the fields would either go to the existing 3.7mtpa Darwin LNG export project in Australia or to a greenfield 5mtpa Timor LNG project at Beaco on the south coast of Timor-Leste. The failure in reaching an agreement ended up having global portfolio major Shell and US supplier ConocoPhillips selling their shares to Timor Gas & Petroleo (Timor Gap) in late 2018. Timor Gap senior officials have expressed their determination regarding getting gas pumped to their island as it is “essential to Timor-Leste’s future economic growth and development”. In June, Woodside announced a revised leadership structure aiming for a simplified operating model to aggregate project execution, integrate traditional and new energy growth and opportunity, streamline corporate strategy activities, and establish a dedicated senior team for human resources, legal and external affairs. In May, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) signed a $1 billion loan agreement with a unit of Woodside that along with loans from private financial institutions raises $1.45 billion to assist Woodside in developing the Scarborough Energy Project , according to a statement from JBIC. The 8mtpa Scarborough energy project has targeted the first LNG cargo in 2026, according to Woodside. (Adds further O’Neill comments)
US Houston Ship Channel closes Friday on sunken tow vessel
HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US Coast Guard (USCG) closed the Houston Ship Channel Friday afternoon after a tow vessel sunk, according to a notice from Moran Shipping. It is unclear how long the channel will be closed as emergency responders are currently conducting search and rescue efforts, said JJ Plunkett of the Houston Pilots. The closure is at Light 122, near where the Lynchburg Ferry offers passage from La Porte to Baytown. Moran Shipping said efforts are underway to minimize pollution from fuel leakage and mitigate impact on channel traffic and that salvage operations could take at least 48 hours. The following image from shows many tankers (orange) and cargo vessels (yellow) in the channel. Source: Light 122 is on the right side of the image near the entrance to the channel.
SHIPPING: Global container rates edge higher, volumes shifting to West Coast ahead of tariffs
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global shipping container rates edged slightly higher this week as they continue to moderate after more than doubling from early-May, and rates from Shanghai to the US West Coast fell, according to supply chain advisors Drewry. Drewry’s composite World Container Index (WCI) rose by just 1% and is up by just 1.2% over the past two week, as shown in the following chart. Average rates from China to the US East Coast have continued to rise and are nearing $10,000/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit), as shown in the following chart. Drewry expects ex-China rates to hold steady next week and remain high throughout the peak season. Rates from online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos showed similar rates of increase. Judah Levine, head of research at Freightos, in noting the slower rate of increase also pointed to signs that prices may have already peaked. “Daily rates so far this week are ticking lower and major carriers have not announced surcharge increases for later this month or August,” Levine said. Levine said peak season likely started early this year as retailers ordered early to beat possible labor issues at US Gulf and East Coast ports and as consumers continued to spend on goods. Emily Stausboll, senior shipping analyst at ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta, said she is seeing some carriers already lowering spot rates. “This suggests a growing level of available capacity in the market and shippers can once again start to play carriers off against each other – instead of feeling they need to pay whatever price they are offered to secure space. As the balance of negotiating power starts to swing back towards shippers, we should see spot rates start to come back down,” Stausboll said. Container ships and costs for shipping containers are relevant to the chemical industry because while most chemicals are liquids and are shipped in tankers, container ships transport polymers, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. VOLUMES SHIFT TO WEST COAST The Port of Los Angeles saw a 10% increase from the previous month and a slight increase year on year in volumes, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said. Some retailers are rushing to import volumes ahead of the US presidential election in November as Republican nominee Donald Trump has proposed hiking tariffs, especially on goods from China. But a persistently strong economy is also supporting the rise in imports. “The US economy continues to be the primary driver of our cargo volume and I expect to see that continue in the months ahead,” Seroka said. Many importers shifted their deliveries to the US East Coast in 2022 when congestion at West Coast ports surged amid strong consumer demand coming out of the pandemic. The shift in volumes from the East Coast has not led to any congestions at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California (MESC). “Vessels and cargo arriving, departing, and shifting around the ports of LA and LB and continue to move normally with no labor delays and ample labor,” MESC executive director Kip Louttit said. Louttit also said the forecast for arriving container ships over the next two weeks is trending higher. LIQUID CHEM TANKER RATES Rates for liquid chemical tankers ex-US Gulf were stable to softer this week, with decreases seen on the USG-Asia and USG-Brazil trade lanes. From the USG to Asia, there has still been interest in large cargoes, but volumes overall have been slowing down. The absence of market participants has caused freight rates to stumble some, with more downward pressure on smaller parcels due to the small pockets of space readily available. From the USG to Brazil, the list of ships open in the USG continues to grow, with space still available which could lead to continued downward pressure and even lower rates. Activity typically picks up during summer months, but this is not currently being seen. PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal will limit transits from 3-4 August because of planned maintenance. The east lane of the Miraflores locks will be out of service for concrete maintenance on the east approach wall, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) said. The PCA began limiting transits in July 2023 because of low water levels in Gatun Lake caused by an extended drought. Restrictions have gradually eased over the past few months and are approaching the average daily transits of 36-38/day seen prior to impacts from the drought. The improved conditions at the canal are likely to improve transit times for vessels traveling between the US Gulf and Asia, as well as between Europe and west coast Latin America countries. This should benefit chemical markets that move product between regions. Wait times for non-booked southbound vessels ready for transit have been relatively steady at less than two days, according to the PCA vessel tracker. Wait times were less than a day for northbound vessels and less than two days for southbound traffic. Focus article by Adam Yanelli With additional reporting by Kevin Callahan Visit the ICIS Logistics – impact on chemicals and energy topic page.
Highfield Resources to receive funds for Spain potash project, acquire Canada greenfield
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Spanish fertilizer firm Highfield Resources has entered a non-binding letter of intent for cooperation with Yankuang Energy Group and other investors which would give the company funding for its Muga Potash project and acquisition of a greenfield development in Saskatchewan, Canada. Yankuang Energy Group would become the largest shareholder under the deal, which would see the company and other investors, collectively referred to as the Cornerstone Placement. provide $220 million in funding for Muga phase one, which Highfield confirms is construction ready. The producer said Yankuang Energy intends to provide up to $90 million to support the Cornerstone Placement with the other strategic investors providing the remaining balance in exchange Highfield will issue the investors new ordinary shares. Beyond allowing it to advance the Spanish project, this agreement would also pave the way company officials said for the transformation of Highfield into a globally diversified potash company as they would receive the Southey Potash project in Saskatchewan. This would be completed by the acquisition of the shares in Yancoal Canada, a subsidiary of Yankuang Energy, who currently has this development, which is described as a greenfield potash mine project. Southey is located approximately 60km north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and is being designed as a solution mining operation with environmental approval in place and a feasibility study completed. Highfield added that there is a high confidence reserve estimate at the project with significant resource potential and that it is forecasted to have a mine life of more than 65 years. The planned annual production is estimated at 2.8 million tonnes/year of muriate of potash (MOP). The producer said the combination of Southey and Muga is expected to turn Highfield into a more significant potash market participant as it could eventually have a total production capacity potential of 3.8 million tonnes/year of MOP.
ICIS Economic Summary: US eyes coming interest rate cuts as consumer spending, inflation eases
NEW YORK (ICIS)–With solid progress on disinflation and the labor market easing, financial markets are sharpening their focus on the coming interest rate cut cycle, with the first move expected in September. Ten-year Treasury yields are collapsing and economically sensitive stocks surging, as consensus moves to as much as three cuts of 25 basis points by the Federal Reserve in 2024 and further easing next year. All this comes as the consumer – the key driver of the US economy – is showing signs of fatigue. With COVID-era savings largely tapped out and the labor market easing, consumer spending is poised to slow going forward, bringing down overall economic growth as well as inflation. The latest US retail sales report confirmed the trend of a continuing slowdown in consumer spending, with June flat versus May. Year-on-year, retail sales were up just 2.3% – lower than the current inflationary trend.  This also implies a drop in volumes. There was notable year-on-year strength in ecommerce (+8.9%), bars and restaurants (+4.4%) and apparel (+4.3%). Weakness was led by furniture and home furnishings (-4.0%); sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and books (-3.4%) and motor vehicles and parts (-2.2%). We are not talking about a collapse in consumer spending, but an easing is clearly in effect, naturally in line with a softening labor market. The unemployment rate has continued to slowly tick higher and is now at 4.1% versus a low of 3.4% in January. And the ratio of job openings versus unemployed now stands at 1.2 – close to pre-pandemic levels. The number of high-profile US retail earnings disappointments and stock price collapses continues to pile up. These include Helen of Troy, a producer of branded consumer home, outdoor, beauty and wellness products, sportswear giant Nike, coffee and beverage retailer Starbucks and restaurant group McDonald’s – all in the consumer discretionary camp. INFLATION RATE CONTINUES TO FALLThis slowdown in consumer spending is showing up in inflation numbers as well, with the June core Consumer Price Index (CPI) – excluding food and energy – actually falling 0.1% from May. From a year ago, it was up 3.3% in June, showing further progress from May’s 3.4% print. Services inflation has been sticky, but relief may be on its way. The ISM® US Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI®) for June showed a huge 5.0-point decline from May to 48.8 – in contraction territory (under 50) for the second month in three. On the US manufacturing front, the recovery is sputtering as the ISM US Manufacturing PMI fell further in June to 48.5 – in contraction for the third consecutive month after eking out an expansion in March for the first time in 17 months. This puts the widely expected H2 recovery in chemicals volumes in jeopardy. US housing starts rose 3.0% in June versus May to an annualized pace of 1.35 million, but the gains were in the multifamily sector as single-family starts fell for the fourth consecutive month – by 2.2% in June. Total June starts were down 3.1% year on year. ICIS projects US housing starts of 1.43 million for 2024, rising to 1.49 million in 2025. US light vehicle sales ended Q2 on a sour note, with June sales falling 4.0% from May to a 15.3-million-unit pace, which was also off 4.8% from a year ago. For 2024, ICIS projects light vehicle sales improving to 15.8 million units versus 15.5 units in 2023 and rising further to 16.3 million units in 2025. ICIS forecasts US GDP growth slowing to 2.3% in 2024 from 2.5% in 2023, with the quarterly rate by Q4 at just 1.6%. For all of 2025, ICIS sees GDP growth slowing to 1.8%. While consumer spending is easing and high interest rates continue to weigh on manufacturing and key chemical end markets of housing and automotive, coming rate cuts by the Fed should boost sentiment and ultimately demand, particularly in cyclical sectors. Chemical stock prices are already catching a bid in anticipation. Even as the interest rate picture clears up, uncertainty abounds on the geopolitical and political fronts, with the upcoming US election in November in focus. For the chemical and manufacturing sectors, the spotlight on tariffs and their implications will only intensify.
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