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Brazil’s authorities’ response to floods decent, society’s humbling – Abiquim CEO
SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Brazil’s authorities’ response to the devastating floods in Rio Grande do Sul was appropriate, while that of civic society was “marvelous and exemplary”, according to the CEO at chemicals trade group Abiquim. Andre Passos is a gaucho himself, as people from Rio Grande do Sul are called. The state is one of Brazil’s most industrialized and is also an agricultural powerhouse. At the beginning of May, there were concerns the state’s machinery – all levels: federal, state and municipal authorities – could not cope with what Passos described as “five Katrinas together”, in reference to the hurricane which devastated New Orleans in the US in 2004. Abiquim’s CEO said, however, that the state’s response proved adequate overall by triggering the state of emergency and that way allowing authorities to release large-scale funds quicker. Authorities have opened credit lines with favorable interest rates, although trade groups in the state have said more will be needed for the economy to recover. Passos was more decisive in his praise for gauchos and Brazilians at large and how they responded to the crisis: he said he had been humbled and somehow overwhelmed by that response. STATE RESPONSEBrazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva received some criticism early in the crisis due to his slow response, and many voices said the state of emergency should have been declared earlier than one week after the crisis had started. Most analysts expect Brazil’s GDP growth to be negatively affected in 2024 due to the floods. Manufacturing activity in May sharply slowed down, the petrochemicals-intensive automotive sector was heavily affected and that month’s inflation figures showed prices rose in part due to the floods. Rio Grande do Sul is also home to the Triunfo petrochemicals hub, key in Brazil’s polymers chain and which restarted operations late in May, including the largest producer there, Braskem. In early May, some analysts said the floods were Lula’s ‘Katrina moment’, in reference to US President George W Bush in 2004 and how it became the quintessential example of lack of leadership skills in a crisis. According to Passos, Lula – and the state at large – would have passed the test. “The Federal authorities took the correct decision in declaring the state of emergency, in looking at this crisis an exception, so they can have the necessary freedom to allocate resources quicker. We must keep in mind: people working for the state in Rio Grande do Sul – for the federal, the state and the local authorities – were also heavily affected, personally,” said Passos. “That undoubtedly will cause a delay in the response: civil servants’ houses and families were also in the middle of the crisis. This was a tragedy the size of five Katrinas, so you clearly will have an impact in the state’s capacity to act, but they are coming back and the response is now being adequate, considering also the limitations you will have in a country like Brazil.” BRAZILIANS’ RESPONSEAmid the severe destruction, Passos said however the anonymous acts of kindness of gauchos in the past six weeks had been overwhelming. As well as praising those anonymous citizens who went out of their way to help, he also said he had been happily surprised to see companies who, at the moment of the state’s direst needs, put their corporate interests behind to unite in their response. He tells how Abiquim coordinated the distribution of oxygen during the crisis out of Rio Grande do Sul’s two plants producing oxygen, coordinating efforts from the producers as well as others in the chain who were necessary to distribute it. “From the first moment, companies agreed for Abiquim to have a central role, without affecting their market share or the redistribution of customers or anything like that. We had several challenges at the peak of the crisis to distribute the oxygen in liquid form, in trucks,” said Passos. “That’s where you get those anonymous acts of heroism. If the truck found a logistical hurdle, everyone around would literally leave what they were doing and try to open way for the truck. Schools, churches, any sort of public building seemed to turn into refuges to help those who were forced out of their houses. Those acts speak of a marvelous civic response, from gauchos but also from the rest of Brazilians, who for weeks had Rio Grande do Sul in their minds and hearts and also helped.” ICIS published the first part of this interview on 14 June. In it, Passos said Abiquim is demanding not only higher import tariffs, so domestic producers’ market share is protected in the face of imports, but also a plan to lower natural gas prices and a stimulus program to support the chemicals production chain. Front page picture: Braskem’s facilities in Triunfo, in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state  Source: Braskem Interview article by Jonathan Lopez
Storms brewing in US Gulf, Atlantic, but chem ops not expected to be affected
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Meteorologists are tracking two tropical disturbances, one in the US Gulf and the other in the Atlantic Ocean, but neither are expected to have any major influence on chemical plant operations. In the US Gulf, there is a broad area of low pressure in the Bay of Campeche and conditions are conducive for gradual development with a tropical depression or tropical storm likely to form by midweek, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). Regardless of development, the NHC said several days of heavy rainfall are expected across portions of southern Mexico and Central America. Locally heavy rainfall is also expected to spread over northwestern portions of the US Gulf by the middle of the week. An area of cloudiness and thunderstorms located several hundred miles east of the Bahamas is also showing conditions that could be conducive for some development over the next few days as it moves west-northwest, the NHC said. The system is likely to approach the southeast US coast by Thursday or Friday. There is likely to be increased focus on US Gulf petchem production this summer as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting the greatest number of hurricanes in the agency’s history. NOAA forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center said that the hurricane season – which started on 1 June and runs through 30 November – has an 85% chance to be above-normal, a 10% chance of being near-normal and only a 5% chance of being below-normal. The prediction of 17-25 named storms is the highest ever, topping the 14-23 predicted in 2010. A storm is named once it has sustained winds of 39 miles/h (63km/h). Damage from hurricanes can lead to increased demand for chemicals, but hurricanes and tropical storms can also disrupt the North American petrochemical industry because many of the nation’s plants and refineries are along the US Gulf Coast in the states of Texas and Louisiana. In 2022, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico accounted for about 15% of total US crude oil production and about 2% of total US dry natural gas production, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Even the threat of a major storm can disrupt oil and natural gas supplies because companies often evacuate US Gulf platforms as a precaution.
Americas top stories: weekly summary
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 14 June. Higher import tariffs one leg of wider plan to save Brazil’s besieged chemicals producers – Abiquim Proposals to sharply increase chemicals import tariffs are only one of the three aspects Brazil’s chemicals producers have proposed to the government to save their “besieged” operations, according to the CEO at trade group Abiquim. INSIGHT: Chem M&A outlook brightens amid surge of deal announcements Chemical companies have started the first half of 2024 announcing potential sales and separations of several businesses, which could lead up to busy cycle for mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Mexico’s petchems supply flowing despite Altamira disruption, but industry crisis could continue The drought affecting the Altamira petrochemicals hub in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas is not yet affecting the supply of chemicals, but the water restrictions for industrial players could continue, sources said this week. US Fed expects only one cut in 2024, keeps rates steady The Federal Reserve lowered its forecast for rate cuts in 2024 to just one from three as it voted on Wednesday to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at 5.25-5.5%. Canada rail labor union to hold new strike ballot Canadian rail labor union Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) will hold a new strike vote because an earlier mandate for industrial action will expire on 30 June, it said in an update. Styrolution to permanently shut Sarnia styrene plant in Canada INEOS Styrolution will close its 445,000 tonnes/year styrene production plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, by June 2026, the company announced Tuesday. IPEX: Global spot index edges down on lower values across all regions The global spot ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) fell by 0.7% in the week ending 7 June on losses across all regions, not least northwest Europe. Chile’s Petroquim navigating better than peers pressure from Asian material – exec Polypropylene (PP) producer Petroquim is also facing pressure from lower-priced material sent from Asia, but the company’s “dedicated” service to customers has kept its sales spared from a larger hit, according to the commercial manager at the Chilean company.

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Latin America stories: weekly summary
SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Here are some of the stories from ICIS Latin America for the week ended on 14 June. NEWS  INSIGHT: Brazil, Mexico currencies take a hit, energy policy under Sheinbaum remains in spotlight The Mexican peso continued sliding this week as the new President Elect Claudia Sheinbaum’s Morena party achieved the “super-majority” investors feared, which could open the door to one-party constitutional reforms, while her energy policy remains on the spotlight. Argentina’s inflation down to 276% in May, first fall in 10 months Argentina’s annual rate of inflation fell in May to 276.4%, down from April’s 289.4%, the country’s statistical office, Indec said, the first fall since July 2023 and six months after President Javier Milei took office. Higher import tariffs one leg of wider plan to save Brazil’s besieged chemicals producers – Abiquim Proposals to sharply increase chemicals import tariffs are only one of the three aspects Brazil’s chemicals producers have proposed to the government to save their “besieged” operations, according to the CEO at trade group Abiquim. Mexico’s petchems supply flowing despite Altamira disruption, but industry crisis could continue The drought affecting the Altamira petrochemicals hub in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas is not yet affecting the supply of chemicals, but the water restrictions for industrial players could continue, sources said this week. Brazilian pulp producer Suzano to acquire 15% stake in Austria’s Lenzing Brazilian pulp producer Suzano has agreed to acquire a 15% stake in Austrian cellulosic fibres company Lenzing for €230 million, paying €39.70/share, officials said on Wednesday. Brazil fertilizers interactive trade flow map January-May 2024 The Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade for Brazil has released fertilizer trade figures for January-May 2024. Future disruption to Panama Canal will depend on El Nino intensity – expert Despite arrangements put in place to make the Panama Canal fit for a changing climate, future disruption at the Americas key shipping route will depend on a variable no-one can predict: the intensity of future El Niño weather phenomenon, according to an expert at maritime services provider CB Fenton on Tuesday. Mexico’s chemicals output up 7.2% in April, manufacturing up nearly 4.0% Mexico’s chemicals output rose by 7.2% in April, year on year, well above the 3.8% increase in overall manufacturing activity, the country’s statistical office Inegi said on Tuesday. Chemical tanker prices rise as much as 75% since 2020 on lack of liquidity – expert Chemicals tanker prices have risen globally 30-75% in the past four years on a lack of liquidity, an expert at Chile-headquartered chemicals bulk operator Ultratank said on Tuesday. Brazil’s inflation up to 3.93% in May; prices rise sharply in floods-hit state Brazil’s annual rate of inflation rose in May to 3.93%, up from 3.69% in April, with notable price rises registered in food products, especially in the floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul, the country’s statistical office IBGE said on Tuesday. Closures of high-cost assets to accelerate in Europe, northeast Asia – ICIS Announcements of closures for high-cost assets, especially in Europe and northeast Asia, are likely to accelerate in coming quarters as the global petrochemicals industry is forced to rationalize, according to an ICIS analyst on Tuesday. Venezuela’s Pequiven, Turkey’s Yildirim mull petchems, ammonia facilities Venezuelan state-owned petrochemicals producer Pequiven has signed an agreement with Turkey’s conglomerate Yildirim to consider building petrochemicals and ammonia facilities in the country, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Economy. Chile’s Petroquim navigating better than peers pressure from Asian material – exec Polypropylene (PP) producer Petroquim is also facing pressure from lower-priced material sent from Asia, but the company’s “dedicated” service to customers has kept its sales spared from a larger hit, according to the commercial manager at the Chilean company. PRICINGLatAm PP international prices steady to higher on squeezed margins, higher freight rates International polypropylene (PP) prices were assessed as stable to higher across Latin American countries because of higher freight costs and squeezed margins. LatAm PE international prices steady to up on higher offers from abroad International polyethylene (PE) prices were assessed as steady to higher across the region on the back of higher offers from abroad. Plant status: Alpek Polyester’s Altamira plants ceases operations due to water scarcity in Mexico Mexico’s chemicals producer Alpek has declared force majeure for purified terephthalate acid (PTA) out of its 1 million tonnes/year facilities in Altamira, state of Tamaulipas, on the back of the severe drought which has restricted water supplies to industrial companies. Stable PET prices in Mexico prevail amid supply challenges Throughout this week, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) prices have remained stable in Mexico, as per market observations. However, industry participants believe that this stability might not last long.
BLOG: ‘Car Wars’ begin as US, EU and Turkey impose duties on Chinese electric vehicles
LONDON (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Chemicals & The Economy by Paul Hodges, which looks at the tariff war starting on Electric Vehicles 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.
Europe top stories: weekly summary
LONDON (ICIS)–Here are some of the top stories from ICIS Europe for the week ended 14 June. Steady demand keeps Europe butadiene prices firm, improved output but ongoing limitations European butadiene (BD) output may have improved with the resolution of a couple of unplanned outages in May but an ongoing turnaround in the Netherlands and some unplanned downtime in France, amid talk of other issues, is keeping spot availability constrained and spot pricing firm. ESA ’24: No easy fix for European spot sulphuric acid shortfall European sulphuric acid buyers are somewhat resigned as an ongoing shortage of spot acid continues – with little evidence in sight for any improvement in availability. Europe naphtha, Eurobob crack spreads suffer demand slump Northwest European open-specification naphtha (OSN) spot values recovered from losses sustained last week as upstream Brent crude prices rose. IPEX: Global spot index edges down on lower values across all regions The global spot ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) fell by 0.7% in the week ending 7 June on losses across all regions, not least northwest Europe. Europe chems stocks, markets slump in wake of election upheaval Stocks markets in Europe slumped on Monday after EU parliamentary results pointed to a rise in prominence for Eurosceptic parties, with the announcement of a snap election in France and the resignation of the Belgian Prime Minister.
China May industrial output growth slows to 5.6% on year
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s industrial output in May increased by 5.6% year on year, slowing from April’s 6.7% growth, official data showed on Monday. Manufacturing expansion decelerated to 6.0% in May, from 7.5% in the previous month, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Mining output posted a faster growth of 3.6% in May from 2.0% in April, while the utilities sector registered a slower expansion of 4.3% from 5.8% in the previous month. Out of the 41 Chinese industries, 33 reported output gain in May, down from 36 in April. The three sectors with highest output growth in May were computer, communication and other electronic devices manufacturing (14.5%); chemical raw material and finished products manufacturing (12.7%); and railway, vessel, aviation and other transportation equipment manufacturing (11.8%). For the first five months of 2024, China’s industrial output expanded by 6.2% year on year, slower than the 6.3% pace in January-April. China is the world’s second-biggest economy, whose recovery is being dragged down by an ailing property sector. Thumbnail image: At a special cable products factory in Huzhou, China, on 12 June 2024. (Costfoto/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)
Asia top stories – weekly summary
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 14 June 2024. INSIGHT: Asia petrochemical markets grapple with surging shipping costs By Nurluqman Suratman 14-Jun-24 13:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Spot prices of most petrochemicals in Asia have spiked on the back of surging freight and container costs, as logistics challenges which continue to dampen global commodities trades coincide with a seasonal uptick in demand. INSIGHT: China slams EU over EV tariffs; trade war brewing By Nurluqman Suratman 13-Jun-24 15:01 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China has slammed EU’s proposal to impose provisional tariffs on imports of Chinese electric vehicles (EVs), denouncing it as a “blatant act of protectionism”, raising concerns that a trade war between Asia’s biggest economy and a new western front is brewing. India Q3 fatty acids demand grows amid freight spikes, logistics woes By Helen Yan 12-Jun-24 13:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–India’s import demand for fatty acids has picked up, with buyers seeking to lock in third-quarter shipments amid soaring freight costs and logistics issues that have disrupted global trade flows. Asia naphtha could still be lifted by supply challenges By Li Peng Seng 10-Jun-24 09:55 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s naphtha intermonth spread has lost 42% of its value compared to a month ago as weak petrochemical margins weighed, but lingering concerns over arbitrage supplies coming to Asia could help limit the downside. INSIGHT: Asian petrochemical industry at crossroads amid supply glut – APIC By Nurluqman Suratman 10-Jun-24 16:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The Asian petrochemical industry is grappling with a multifaceted transition, marked by a persistent oversupply of petrochemicals, the urgent need to decarbonize, and the growing momentum of the circular economy. China price pressures to remain weak on persistent weak demand By Nurluqman Suratman 13-Jun-24 11:08 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s consumer inflation rate is expected to remain weak in the near future on persistently weak domestic demand, raising worries about the risk of deflation as the nation’s economic recovery struggles to gain traction.
LOGISTICS: Container rates rise on peak season surcharges, but rate of growth slowing
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Rates for shipping containers continue to surge as carriers are implementing peak season surcharges while capacity remains tight from Red Sea diversions, but some shipping analysts think there are signs that the dramatic rate of growth may be slowing, which leads off this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINERS Shipping container rates continued to rise this week, but the rate of increase slowed, according to data from supply chain advisors Drewry and as shown in the following chart. Ocean freight rates analytics firm Xeneta said its data indicates spot rates on major trades out of Asia will increase again on 15 June, but to a less dramatic extent than witnessed in May and early June. Average spot rates from Asia to US West Coast are set to increase by 4.8% on 15 June to stand at $6,178/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit). However, on 1 June, rates on this trade increased by 20%. From Asia into the US East Coast, rates are set to increase by 3.9% on 15 June to stand at $7,114/FEU. Again, this is a far less dramatic jump than when rates increased by 15% on 1 June. Rates from north China to the US Gulf are at the highest this year but leveled off this week, as shown in the following chart. “Any sign of a slowing in the growth of spot rates will be welcomed by shippers, but this is an extremely challenging situation, and it is likely to remain so,” Xeneta chief analyst Peter Sand said. “The market is still rising, and some shippers are still facing the prospect of not being able to ship containers on existing long-term contracts and having their cargo rolled.” 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. LIQUID TANKER RATESUS chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS were mostly unchanged. However, rates were lower from the US Gulf (USG) to India and unchanged from the USG to the Caribbean. From the USG to Asia, the market has gone overall quiet after a few busy weeks in the month of May. The spot market faces headwinds as activity has been slow, causing spot space to pile up for July, placing downward pressure on spot rates. Recent force majeures in the USG have caused some COA vessels to look for additional cargoes, adding pressure to rates. Market participants are optimistic that freight rates for larger parcels will stabilize in the near term. US PORT OPERATIONS Operations at US ports are stable even as import volumes are at the highest since 2022, and railroad performance has improved over the past month, according to analysts at freight forwarder Flexport. Nathan Strang, director of ocean freight, US Southwest for Flexport, said that apart from the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, volumes are moving really well through the East Coast ports with rail dwell averaging about two days. Charleston is undergoing an infrastructure project on its Wando Welch Terminal to expand the docks. Dock construction at Wando Welch terminal started on 11 March, reducing berth space from three to two berths for one year, with berths given on first come, first serve basis. Strang said some vessels are discharging at the Port of Savannah, Georgia, and then moving material to Wando Welch via trucks, or using other terminals within the Port of Charleston as space becomes available. Overall port omissions from all carriers are starting to reduce the extent of the delays, with six to nine days delay expected in week 24, according to a port update from Hapag-Lloyd. RAILROADS Strang said Flexport customers are seeing lower dwell times for rail cars at ports over the past month. “I have been talking about how rail performance to and through the West Coast has been suffering a little bit,” Strang said, describing his point of view in past webinars. “I will say that we have seen real improvement.” Strang said West Coast port operations have remained stable, with local pick-up dwell at six days for Los Angeles/Long Beach, at five days in Seattle/Tacoma (SeaTac) and at four days in Oakland. For the first 23 weeks of 2024, ended 8 June, North American chemical railcar loadings rose 3.8% to 1,082,614 – with the US up 3.9% to 745,780. In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest. PORT OF BALTIMORE OPENS The Fort McHenry Federal Channel – the entrance to the Port of Baltimore – is fully reopened just 11 weeks after a container ship lost power and struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse and essentially shutting the port. The Unified Command (UC) said salvage crews successfully removed the final large steel truss segment blocking the 700-foot-wide Fort McHenry Federal Channel on 3-4 June. Deep-draft commercial vessels have been able to transit the port since 20 May when the UC cleared the channel to a width of 400ft and depth of 50ft. Following the removal of wreckage at the 50-foot mud-line, the UC performed a survey of the channel on 10 June, certifying the riverbed as safe for transit. The closing of the port did not have a significant impact on the chemicals industry as chemicals make up only about 4% of total tonnage that moves through the port, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC). PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) is offering an additional booking slot for the Neopanamax locks as of 11 June, increasing the total number of daily canal transits to 33, and is also raising the maximum authorized draft based on the current and projected level of Gatun Lake. The PCA will open an additional slot on 8 July, which will bring the total number of daily transits to 34. Because of the improved water levels now that the rainy season has arrived, the PCA is also increasing the maximum authorized draft for vessels to 14.02 meters (46.0 feet). This is the second increase in draft restrictions over the past few weeks. 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. The tracker is only for non-booked vessels in the queue and shippers should consider two additional days as a minimum to estimate transit times for unscheduled vessels, the PCA said. Focus article by Adam Yanelli Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan
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