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ICIS News

Asia top stories – weekly summary

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 1 March 2024. Asian spot TiO2 market set to enjoy support in March By Joson Ng 01-Mar-24 13:11 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The titanium dioxide (TiO2) Asian spot market is likely to see improving or stable demand in March, especially in China, as the traditional peak demand season kicks in. As producers in China are also citing a healthy number of orders on hand, they are not likely to allow cargoes to go unless the bids are close to their valuation. Korea’s S-Oil targets $2bn capex for Ulsan oil-to-chems project in '24 By Pearl Bantillo 29-Feb-24 12:31 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–South Korean refiner S-Oil has earmarked won (W) 2.72tr ($2bn) this year for its thermal crude-to-chemical (TC2C) project called Shaheen, representing 87% of the total capital expenditure (capex) set for 2024. VIDEO: China VAM market remains firm post-holiday on tighter spot supply By Joanne Wang 29-Feb-24 11:52 SINGAPORE (ICIS)– ICIS senior industry analyst Joanne Wang reviews the vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) market in China in early 2024 and shares a brief market outlook. Japan January inflation at 2.0%; end to negative interest rates in sight By Nurluqman Suratman 27-Feb-24 14:37 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Japan's core consumer inflation in January rose by 2.0%, matching the Bank of Japan's (BoJ) price stability target and supporting expectations that the central bank will end its ultra-low interest rates policy by April. Asia oxo-alcohols find support in post-holiday market on tight supply By Julia Tan 26-Feb-24 12:49 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s spot oxo-alcohols import markets saw quiet trade in the post-holiday period, with limited buying interest from northeast Asian buyers as most opted to assume a wait-and-see stance. Buyers are generally only expected to begin procurement activity following the Lantern Festival, which took place on 24 February. Asia BD spot market buoyant with active China exports By Ai Teng Lim 23-Feb-24 10:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Discussions for Asian butadiene (BD) imports picked up this week as China embarked on active export sales.

04-Mar-2024

US manufacturing shrinks for 16th month, but downturn may be stabilizing – ICIS economist

HOUSTON (ICIS)–US manufacturing activity shrank for a 16th consecutive month in February, with the purchasing managers’ index (PMI), compiled by the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), falling to 47.8 points, from 49.1 in January. PMIs below 50.0 indicate a contraction in manufacturing and PMIs above 50.0 indicate an expansion. Although the pace of the contraction was faster than in January, it slowed compared with 2023, said Kevin Swift, ICIS senior economist for Global Chemicals. Also, despite the latest decline, eight industries out of 18 expanded in February, up from four in January, Swift said, adding, “the manufacturing downturn may be stabilizing”. In the chemical industry, activity expanded for a second month, following 16 months of decline. Manufacturing production retreated into contraction last month, as did new orders. Order backlogs contracted, but at a slower pace than in January. Inventories contracted for a 13th month, with the pace accelerating. The low inventory could provide a floor for output, Swift said, adding, “The long and deep de-stocking cycle could be ending, with the possibility for re-stocking later this year.” Although demand remains slow, manufacturing may be at the early stages of a recovery, he said. Prices edged up for a second month in February, but the pace of the increase slowed from January. Prices are sensitive to changes in supply and demand and tend to provide a leading signal, the economist said. MANUFACTURING AT A GLANCE February 2024 (Source: Institute for Supply Management) Thumbnail shows an automobile being manufactured. Image by Ng Han Guan/AP/Shutterstock.

01-Mar-2024

INTERVIEW: Arkema shifts gear to more incremental M&A – CEO

PARIS (ICIS)–Arkema’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategy will focus on smaller deals after a period of intense transformation into a specialty chemicals company, according to its CEO. Since its creation from Total’s chemicals operation in 2004, the France-headquartered group has reduced its exposure to commodities, while boosting specialty materials operations through organic investment and M&A. In 2006, its intermediates division accounted for 50% of group sales. Some of its big specialty acquisitions include the Sartomer business in 2011, Bostik in 2015 and Ashland’s adhesives business in 2022. Big disposals include the vinyl products business in 2012 and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) in 2021. A total of 26 acquisitions have added around €5bn in sales, while 20 divestments were worth around €3bn in revenues. The remaining intermediates comprise a fluorogas business and acrylic monomers. Speaking on the sidelines of the company’s 2023 financial results conference, CEO Thierry Le Henaff said: “We are very happy with our portfolio: it will continue to change a little bit, incrementally – we have done so much in terms of portfolio management…. Our M&A will now become more incremental.” However, capital expenditure will be increased as the company builds new plants for materials that take advantage of some of the key growth areas Arkema has identified. Le Henaff pointed out the projects and key product groups he identified during the company’s capital market day in October 2023. The CEO said: “The world is changing with the drive towards sustainability which offers opportunities. To take advantage of these we need to invest more than in the past. We will try to have a few significant projects in order to seize the opportunities from megatrends.” He said capex for 2024 is forecast to be €750m, €100m more than in 2023 and is expected to stay at these levels. Interview by Will Beacham Thumbnail photo: Arkema's Colombes, France, headquarters (Source: Arkema)

01-Mar-2024

PODCAST: Asia, Europe oxo-alcohols Mar market sees sustained tight supply

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–On 27 February, OQ Chemicals' oxo-alcohols unit in Oberhausen, Germany, went offline amid technical issues, further tightening supply in Europe. Asia is also likely to see tight supply as the market moves into the second quarter, as Japan embarks on its turnaround season. Asia, Europe to see tight oxo-alcohols supply into Q2 Asia demand likely stable quarter on quarter; demand from downstream plasticizers weak Asia-Europe arbitrage window could open on tighter Europe supply In this podcast, ICIS markets editor Julia Tan and markets reporter Nicole Simpson discuss the outlook for oxo-alcohols in Asia and Europe.

01-Mar-2024

The EU's free market principles: standing the test of time

THE 2022 CRISIS (THAT NEVER WAS) Early in 2022, in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU unveiled a radical ambition: to reduce reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds that year, followed by complete independence from Russian fossil-fuels well before the decade’s end. What followed has become known as the energy crisis of 2022. But, as global gas flowed into Europe, infrastructure build was rapidly accelerated and public buildings from Berlin to Brussels lowered heating and dimmed lights, the much-assumed and widely-feared ‘crisis’ never materialised. What did emerge was evidence of an extraordinarily durable market design. One that withstood the most extreme stress test and, ultimately, did what it was intended to do: safeguard supply security through the formation of price signals that reflected the stark reality on the ground. Two years on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s structural pivot away from Russian gas has proved a resounding and unlikely success. The continent’s gas prices are stable, its stocks are full, and its import capacity is booming. The integrated electricity and gas markets established by the EU over the last three decades have saved consumers billions of euros over the years, driven technological progress and helped the EU avert an energy crisis that even the most optimistic of experts in early 2022 considered inevitable. By comparison, the controversial market interventions of 2022 are yet to prove of any lasting value. The liberalised market model has come through extreme stresses and emerged intact. Its next challenge will be the energy transition. Provided the market model’s guiding principles – free trade, fair competition, deeper integration – remain unchanged, it should prove as fit for our next generation’s low-carbon future as it has for the unexpected challenges of the recent past. 1. HOW WE GOT HERE EU energy market liberalisation began in the 1990s. Security fears subsided after the Cold War, and market forces were unleashed to guide policy and shape behaviour. The liberalisation of strategic sectors such as electricity and natural gas became the narrative of choice across Europe. The aspiration found fertile ground. The EU’s founding treaties and acts had outlined a vision for achieving prosperity and peace by guaranteeing the free movement of goods, services, capital and people through common rules for all states. The EU’s electricity and gas markets were established in that spirit, aiming to provide affordable and secure energy supplies by integrating competitive forces. Energy market reforms were rolled out across five packages. Although the initial two were timid in scope, the third package of 2009 went much further, becoming the cornerstone of the internal energy market. The remaining two packages adopted in recent years reflected the EU’s newer challenges, aiming to prepare markets for the energy transition and the phase-out of fossil fuels. There is clear evidence that free markets have brought concrete benefits including cheaper prices, significant savings and greater energy security. Competitive prices The early stages of development of the UK’s NBP gas market – the first to liberalise across Europe – show the emergence of competition brought not only greater flexibility but also more competitive prices. Before 1990 markets were firmly under the control of monolithic state-owned incumbents. But after 1990, coinciding with the ‘dash for gas’ encouraged by booming North Sea production, the price of natural gas was increasingly set by supply and demand rather than embedded in long-term contracts between producers and consumers. Because of competition in both gas production and wholesale gas market expansion, the British NBP price generally traded below Germany’s border import (BAFA) price. Security of supply Another goal pursued by the EU has been supply security. With limited gas production of its own, the bloc has historically been dependent on pipeline imports from Russia, Norway, Algeria and Libya. Growth in global LNG supplies allowed countries such as France, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK to expand LNG import facilities and secure volumes from emerging producers. The incentive provided by the price signals at gas hubs sparked private investment in new infrastructure including new pipelines and LNG regasification terminals which allowed member states to diversify supplies. This proved of critical importance in 2022 when Russia, as Europe’s main supplier of gas, stopped most of its exports. 2. AVERTING CRISIS Between the second half of 2021 and the end of 2022, Europe witnessed a sharp decline in gas supplies which left wholesale prices and trading volatility spiralling. The situation unfolded against a background of factors: Rising demand following the lifting of Covid-related restrictions Production problems at various LNG plants across the world Russia’s curtailment of supplies to Europe before and after its invasion of Ukraine Considering the experience of 2022, is the liberal market model adopted by the EU in the 1990s fit not just for today, but for the challenges of tomorrow too? From one extreme… Concerned by the developments of 2022, the EU adopted a raft of interventionist measures ranging from mandating storage stocks across all EU member states to designing tools to intervene in wholesale gas prices. The sheer volume of regulations designed to shield consumers was unprecedented. However, while some regulations such as the introduction of mandatory storage quotas were useful as they forced member states to ensure backup supplies, others were not needed or failed to make an impact. For example, the market correction mechanism was introduced in February 2023 and subsequently extended to all EU hubs in May of that year. It was intended to cap gas prices in the event of extreme and sustained price increases. But as global trade patterns have realigned, hub prices have progressively fallen since the end of 2022, and the increase in supply flexibility from a global LNG market means the type of extreme supply shock seen in 2022 will not be repeated. This means the market correction mechanism is highly unlikely to be triggered and will have no impact on markets, a fact that was highlighted by the EU’s Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) in a report. Instead, the report noted prices rebalanced as markets responded correctly – even during periods of extreme stress. And data collated by ICIS confirms the ACER findings. Gas consumption fell on average 12% in 2022 in response to price signals and another 8% in 2023 as markets rebalanced. Overall, in 2023, European gas consumption dropped 20% below the 2017-21 average. On the supply side, as Russia cut pipeline supplies to Europe, buyers turned to the global LNG market to secure alternative supplies. ICIS data shows that as Russian supplies fell from 155 billion cubic meters (bcm)/year in 2021 to 69bcm/year in 2022 and further to 30bcm/year in 2023, LNG imports nearly doubled from 46bcm/year before the war to just over 90bcm/year in 2023. The rush for LNG sparked interest in expanding and building regasification capacity, and by the end of 2023, 19 new terminals were proposed across the bloc. Even countries such as Germany, which had been dependent on Russian gas for more than 50% of its imports, pivoted towards LNG, lining up regasification terminals, some of which are already operational. The single most important factor in helping to attract additional supplies was the ability of Europe’s markets to react freely to the severe imbalances in demand and supply. …to the other extreme While 2022 inflicted significant shocks, plummeting global demand caused by Covid lockdown-related restrictions in 2020 also tested the resilience of the EU gas market. With global gas demand falling some 4% year on year in 2020, supply exceeded consumption, and excess LNG was pushed to Europe which absorbed two-thirds of incremental global supply in the first half of the year. Europe’s was able to mop up the global supply overhang due to the flexibility of its markets, its storage facilities and the availability of vast storage capacity in its immediate neighbourhood, in Ukraine. Data collated by ICIS shows volume traded on the Dutch TTF hub, Europe’s most liquid gas market, reached its highest level in 2020 as prices collapsed and a share of the gas produced globally was absorbed by Europe. Both examples – the demand collapse induced by global covid restrictions in 2020 as well as the supply crunch caused by Russia in 2022 – prove the resilience of the European gas market in the face of extreme shocks. 3. WHAT NEXT? More than three decades ago liberal markets were seen as a cure to the inefficiencies of centralised economies. However, there is no doubt that the political and economic shocks experienced in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have lashed markets, contributing to rising inflation and higher living costs. There have also been questions about the vulnerability of markets to malign speculative activity, including reports that large hedge funds armed with new technology such as algorithmic models may have contributed to abnormal bouts of volatility in the gas market at the height of the 2022 price spikes. To mitigate the impact of the rising risks and to stave off social discontent, many member states resorted to a vast array of interventionist measures. As the debate between free markets or intervention continues, the EU is facing two dilemmas that will determine the direction its market arrangements should take in the years to come. Safe or wealthy? The first relates to a choice the EU will make as it faces the challenge of tackling security alongside its quest for prosperity. Although security risks are real, there are prevailing arguments to refrain from further regulating the EU’s internal gas market. The market proved its resilience to extreme stress both in times of supply shocks and exceptionally low demand, sending reliable price signals that enabled a prompt reaction to unforeseen challenges. The ability of the market to react provided the necessary safeguards in times of extreme threat. Energy market liberalisation and the need to guarantee supply security have therefore not been mutually exclusive, but thoroughly compatible. The liberal norms that brought fair competition, transparency, good governance and the rule-of-law shielded the EU from the malign influence of rogue actors such as Russia which weaponised gas supplies. The establishment and consolidation of the internal gas market allowed the EU to remain the rule setter and Russia the rule taker. National or international? Despite the growing collection of regulations adopted by the EU to integrate member states, the construction of the internal liberal market has been fuzzy at times, reflecting a patchwork of disjointed regulatory regimes. One example is the process of market liberalisation itself. Over the years markets such as the Dutch TTF gas hub, which was fully committed to liberalisation, reached a high level of liquidity and maturity while others have struggled to open. This has often led to clashes between national regulatory regimes and policies adopted at EU level. In many cases, the EU had to intervene, triggering infringement procedures against national governments and forcing member states to step back in line. The events of 2022 laid bare such fault lines as many member states adopted regulations such as capping retail and wholesale prices, ladling out generous subsidies or introducing hefty taxation that had been frowned on by the EU. Despite the clear clash, the EU adopted a more lenient stance towards national policies and even took a leaf out of the member states’ book, seeking to regulate wholesale gas prices. In the longer-term such compromises could prove harmful not only to the internal gas market but to the wider EU project as member states would feel empowered to stray away from the bloc’s common objectives. What is needed is more nationally-aligned, long-term planning at EU level to address the challenges that will face the bloc in the future. The answer Unity of purpose and action is vital as the EU faces not only geopolitical threats but also challenges of historic importance such as climate change and the low-carbon energy transition. Supply security will hinge on the large-scale deployment of renewable forms of generation, which means energy markets will need to be flexible, nimble and integrated to guarantee reliable supplies at affordable prices. The answer to the EU’s multiple challenges, therefore, is further deepening the integration of its markets and allowing them to operate along the original, guiding principles. Europe’s best hope for success is as it has always been: Free trade, fair competition and deeper integration.

01-Mar-2024

Japan's MGC to close OX, PA plants in Jan '25; exits plasticizers business

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Japan's Mitsubishi Gas Chemical (MGC) will suspend its production of orthoxylene (OX) and phthalic anhydride (PA) at its Mizushima site from mid-January 2025, and is selling off its 50% stake in CG Ester Corp, effectively exiting the plasticizers business. Continued unprofitability, aging equipment, and forecasts of shrinking demand prompted MGC's decision to halt OX and PA production next year, the company said in a statement on 26 February. MGC produces 30,000 tonnes/year of OX and 40,000 tonnes/year of PA at its Mizushima site. OX is mainly used as a raw material for PA, as well as for solvents and pharmaceutical and agrochemical intermediates. PA is used as a raw material for plasticizers. In a separate statement, MGC said that it has sold off its 50% stake in plasticizers maker CG Ester Corp to its partner JNC Corp in a deal worth yen (Y) 734m ($4.9m). The share transfer was scheduled for 29 March this year, after which, CG Ester will be fully owned by JNC. CG Ester can produce 70,000 tonnes/year of plasticizers via two production sites in Mizushima and Ichihara, according to its website. CGE will cease manufacturing at its Mizushima plant by March 2025 and will take over operations of JNC Petrochemical Corp's manufacturing facility in Ichihara and will also continue to operate its own facility at the site, JNC Corp said in a statement. ($1 = Y150.5) Additional reporting by Michelle Liew

01-Mar-2024

S Korea Feb petrochemical exports fall 3.1%; overall shipments up 4.8%

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–South Korea's petrochemical exports in February fell by 3.1% year on year to $3.94bn, reversing the 4.0% growth in the previous month, official data showed on Friday. The country's overall February exports rose by 4.8% year on year to $52.4bn, supported by a 66.7% year-on-year surge in semiconductor shipments, data from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) showed. Imports for the month fell by 13.1% year on year to $48.1bn, resulting in a trade surplus of $4.29bn. Automobiles, which led South Korea’s exports in 2023, had a 7.8% year-on-year fall in February shipments to $5.16bn. The drop in automobile exports was mainly due to the reduced number of working days due to the Lunar New Year holiday, as well as maintenance works at several production lines. Overall February exports to China dipped by 2.4% year on year to $9.65bn. Despite the decline, South Korea achieved its first trade surplus with China since September 2022. China is South Korea's biggest trading partner. To the US, exports rose by 9% year on year in February to $9.8bn.

01-Mar-2024

LOGISTICS: Carrier CMA CGM to resume Red Sea transits on a case-by-case basis

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global container shipping major CMA CGM Group will begin transiting the Red Sea on a case-by-case basis as it continues to closely monitor the situation, the company said in an advisory to customers. The company said it will make assessments for each vessel prior to transits, so routing choices cannot be anticipated or communicated. All other vessels will continue to be rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope. Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea began in November 2023, forcing carriers to begin diverting away from the Suez Canal in December. Maersk and CMA CGM Group were the last two major carriers to completely cease transits through the Suez. The longer routes put upward pressure on freight rates because of increased fuel costs and tightened capacity with fewer available ships. Rates surged but have begun to ease, although they remain elevated. 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. Some liquid chemicals are also shipped on container ships using isotanks. Visit the ICIS Logistics: impact on chemical and energy markets Topic Page.

29-Feb-2024

PODCAST: Europe oxo-alcohols, derivatives markets characterised by snug supply in February

LONDON (ICIS)–European oxo-alcohols and most of its derivative markets have largely been defined by supply constraints, on the back of upstream challenges and the ongoing disruptions in the Suez Canal. Underlying demand is soft and stable amid the fragile macroeconomic climate. Market players are hoping for some uptick when the spring season commences. Butyl acetate reporter Marion Boakye speaks to oxo-alcohols reporter Nicole Simpson, glycol ethers reporter Cameron Birch and acrylate esters reporter Mathew Jolin Beech about market dynamics down the oxo-alcohols value chain.  

29-Feb-2024

US Chemours shares crash after CEO, CFO placed on leave

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Shares of pigment and fluoromaterials producer Chemours fell by more than 35% on Thursday after the company placed its two top executives and its principal accounting officer on administrative leave. Chemours also delayed the release of its full-year earnings for the second time. It did not say when it could release its results. Right now, the company's audit committee is conducting an internal review that will cover the following: The processes for reviewing reports made to the Chemours ethics hotline. The company’s practices for managing working capital, including the related impact on metrics within incentive plans, certain financial metrics made in government filings and in public announcements. Chemours did not say when it would release its full-year earnings. Meanwhile, the Rosen Law Firm is investigating whether a class action lawsuit could be filed on behalf of Chemours's shareholders. ADMINISTRATIVE LEAVE FOLLOWS BOUT OF EXECUTIVE TURNOVERThe executives placed on administrative leave are CEO Mark Newman, Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Lock and Principal Accounting Officer Camela Wisel. Denise Dignam will serve as interim CEO. Matt Abbott will serve as as interim CFO and principal financial and accounting officer. Newman has been CEO since mid-2021. Before that he was the company's chief operating officer. Lock became CFO in mid-2023. He succeeded Sameer Ralhan, who was one of several high-profile departures that took place that year. The following lists the other departures: At the end of March 2023, Ed Sparks resigned as the president of Titanium Technologies and Chemical Solutions. Also at the end of March, Sheryl Telford resigned as the company's chief sustainability officer. At the end of May 2023, Alisha Bellezza resigned as president, Thermal & Specialized Solutions (TSS), the business segment that makes fluorochemicals. Susan Kelliher, senior vice president, people, resigned at the end of September 2023. FIRST DELAY ANNOUNCED IN MID-FEBRUARYChemours disclosed that its audit committee was conducting the review in mid-February, when it announced the first delay of its earnings release. Chemours makes titanium dioxide, fluorochemicals and fluoropolymers like Teflon. Thumbnail shows Chemours CEO Mark Newman. Image by Chemours.

29-Feb-2024

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