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INSIGHT: China's industrial activity gathers pace but lopsided April data clouds outlook

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China's industrial output grew by 6.7% year on year in April, signalling a further strengthening of its manufacturing sector, but weaker retail sales and bleak property data suggest that its overall growth momentum remains weak. The April industrial output reading accelerated from the 4.5% expansion in the previous month, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed. The strong April data brought year-to-date growth to 6.3% year on year, and industrial activity looks like it will be one of the main growth drivers in the second quarter of the year. The transition toward high-tech manufacturing continues to be one of the major driving forces for China's industrial output. High-tech manufacturing grew 11.3% year on year in April, and 8.4% over the first four months of the year, while auto production also rebounded strongly, up to 16.3% in April up from 9.4% in March. The upbeat manufacturing outlook follows earlier April data which showed the country's exports and imports both returning to growth in April after contracting in the previous month, while the official April manufacturing purchasing manager's index (PMI) remained in expansionary territory at 50.4 in April from 50.8 in March. Despite a partial retreat after peaking during the pandemic, China's share of global goods exports has recently rebounded, reaching 14.7% in the second half of 2023, up from 14% in the first half and exceeding pre-pandemic levels of 13.3% in 2019, according to Christine Peltier, an economist at French bank BNP Paribas. In addition, China’s recent market share gains have been recorded across a wide range of products, including low value-added consumer goods such as furniture and toys, organic chemicals and plastics, vehicles, electrical and electronic machinery and equipment and parts thereof, she noted. They have been particularly impressive for electric vehicles, with export volumes multiplied by 7 between 2019 and 2023, solar panels, exports multiplied by 5 between 2018 and 2023, and lithium batteries. These three products accounted for around 4% of China's total exports in 2023, about three times their 2019 share. The flood of Chinese products has given rise to growing concerns among industrial entrepreneurs and governments in the US, the EU and now emerging countries, and is likely to lead to new trade confrontations in the coming months, Peltier added. RISKS STILL OUTWEIGHING POSITIVES"While we acknowledge the resilience in some parts of the [China] economy amid this economic rebalancing, we believe these are insufficient to outweigh the drags from the property woes and geopolitical headwinds," Nomura Global Markets Research said in its Global Economic Outlook Monthly report. "Export growth is holding up steadily for now, thanks to cheap prices and resilient external demand, but could face further headwinds as countries launch anti-dumping investigations," it said. Although China's export growth has been strong this year due to the global tech upswing, resilient external demand, and competitive prices, rising trade tensions may hinder the export sector and prompt more supply chain relocations away from China in the long term. US President Joe Biden is increasing tariffs on $18 billion worth of imports from China, including electric vehicles (EVs), semiconductors, batteries, and other goods. The White House stated that this decision is a response to unfair trade practices and aims to protect US jobs. In response, China's Ministry of Commerce announced that it "will take resolute measures to safeguard its own rights and interests." PRIVATE CONSUMPTION REMAINS WEAK April's data revealed that retail sales growth fell to a new post-pandemic low, further indicating a shift away from consumption as a primary growth driver for 2024. Retail sales growth fell to 2.3% year on year in April, slowing from the 3.1% expansion in March, bringing the year-to-date growth rate to 4.1%. The largest drag to retail sales in April was tied to automotive sales, which declined by 5.6% year on year, and the data may add fuel to the fire for the critics of China's overcapacity in this sector. Another major category, household appliances, also slowed to 4.5% year on year. As trade-in policies take effect later in the year, these categories could see some recovery, Dutch banking and financial information services firm ING said in a note. "Consumption growth is likely to remain moderate through most of 2024, as consumer confidence remains downbeat amid tepid wage growth and the lingering negative wealth effects from the past several years of declining asset prices," it said. "A possible bottoming out of prices would also take some time before translating to stronger consumer activity." HOUSING SECTOR CONTINUES TO SLUMPThe persistent weakness in China's property sector, accounting for roughly a quarter of its economy, continues to weigh on overall economic growth. April data showed that in the 70-city sample from the NBS, property prices continued to slide. New home prices fell by 0.58% month on month in April, and secondary market prices fell by 0.94%, which were the steepest sequential declines since the start of the housing slump in 2021. At the city level, 69 out of 70 cities continued to see declining prices in the secondary home market in April, unchanged from March. Although new home prices rose in 6 out of 70 cities, including Shanghai and Tianjin, the new home market's performance was weaker in April compared to March when 11 out of 70 cities saw price increases. Separately, property investment fell by 9.8% year on year in January-April, extending the 9.5% contraction in January-March, NBS data showed on Friday. China is now exploring a bold plan to revive its struggling property market by having local governments purchase millions of unsold homes. Chinese authorities on 17 May pledged new support to enable state-owned enterprises to purchase unsold apartments, aiming to provide developers with more funding to complete pre-sold properties. The People's Bank of China also on 17 May eliminated the minimum mortgage interest rate and reduced the minimum down payment ratio for both first-time and second-time home buyers. "A recent flurry of supportive policy announcements including removing purchase restrictions, housing "trade-in" policies, and plans to directly purchase housing units for social housing programmes, has boosted market optimism that we will see a bottoming out of housing prices sometime this year," ING said. As these policies roll out in the coming months and help alleviate downward pressure on property prices, data indicates that homebuyers may still remain cautious and on the sidelines until a trough is established, it said. "While it is arguably one of the most important signs of a stabilization of sentiment in China, it is worth noting that a potential bottoming out of housing prices would only be the first step; elevated housing inventories will likely keep real estate investment suppressed for some time yet, and the property sector will remain a major drag on the economy this year," ING added. Recent announcements from local governments, including the Dali government of Yunnan Province, have expressed intentions to facilitate the acquisition of existing homes for conversion into public housing, Singapore's OCBC Bank said in a note. This move is seen as a way to not only address the housing surplus but also potentially stimulate economic growth by increasing public spending and boosting the construction sector. Moreover, China's Finance Ministry announced on 13 May a plan to issue 1 trillion yuan of ultra-long special bonds over a period of six months, ending in November. This moderate issuance pace marks only the fourth time in 26 years that China has employed this type of debt for fiscal stimulus, allowing for targeted spending. China has set an ambitious economic growth target of around 5% this year, a level which analysts are cautiously optimistic about. The world's second-largest economy expanded by 5.3% in the first quarter of this year. Thumbnail photo: A man rides a scooter next to a construction site of residential buildings in China (Source: ANDRES MARTINEZ CASARES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) Insight by Nurluqman Suratman

21-May-2024

Brazil’s Braskem restarts Triunfo facilities after flooding

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Braskem has restarted its facilities at the Triunfo petrochemicals hub in the floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul, a spokesperson for the Brazilian polymers major said to ICIS on Monday. Braskem said it hopes to have all facilities up and running normally in 15 days. Triunfo represents around 30% of Braskem’s production capacities in Brazil. The company said the restart will be undertaken by phases, as long as weather and access to the site allows. While most petrochemicals plants at Triunfo were not damaged by the flooding, access of workers as well as inputs into the plants was very difficult as the floods blocked several roads in the state. Braskem and other chemical companies at Triunfo declared force majeure at the beginning of May. “In recent days, our teams have been focused on seeking safe conditions to resume production and, thus, contribute more actively to the supply of raw materials for the production of important items for this time of need,” said Braskem’s industrial director, Nelzo da Silva. “To start up the plants, it will be necessary to activate the flare, a standard safety device used by the chemical and petrochemical industries. As part of this process… in the coming days, residents in the area may notice a different light than usual coming from our factories.” Braskem is Brazil’s sole manufacturer of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), the most widely used polymers. Its market share in 2023 for PE stood at 56% and for PP at 70%, according to figures from the ICIS Supply and Demand Database. The Triunfo complex, meanwhile, is key for the country’s polymers supply chain, accounting for nearly 37% of Brazil’s PP capacity and 40% of PE capacity. Brazil’s PP production capacity is nearly 2 million tonnes/year. PE capacity is about 3 million tonnes/year, with 41% being high density polyethylene (HDPE), 33% being linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and 26% being low density polyethylene (LDPE). Braskem’s Triunfo complex can produce 740,000 tonnes/year of PP, 550,000 tonnes/year of HDPE, 385,000 tonnes/year of LDPE and 300,000 tonnes/year of LLDPE. Front page picture: Braskem's facilities in Triunfo Source: Braskem Additional reporting by Bruno Menini

20-May-2024

Volkswagen, Stellantis idle car plants in Brazil, Argentina after floods

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Volkswagen (VW) idled its three plants in the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo on Monday, as suppliers in the floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul are unable to produce any automotive parts, a spokesperson for the German automotive major told ICIS. At the same time, a spokesperson for Stellantis, another major auto producer, confirmed to ICIS that it had shut down its plant in Ferreyra, in Argentina’s Cordoba province, also due to a lack of input. Rio Grande do Sul is Brazil’s southernmost state and petrochemicals-intensive automotive parts producers there are major suppliers to the rest of Brazil and Argentina. However, the state is still reeling from severe flooding on 29 April which has brought around 90% of industrial activity to a standstill, according to local authorities. VOLKSWAGENVW is using a so-called “collective vacation” clause under Brazilian labor laws to send workers at its plants in Anchieta, Taubate, and Sao Carlos home for at least 10 days. However, a plant operated by VW in Sao Jose dos Pinhais, in the state of Parana, continues to operate normally, VW said. "Volkswagen do Brasil informs that continues with the same preventive vacation position. The situation of parts supply is being monitored minute by minute,” said the spokesperson. The workers at the Anchieta and Taubate plants will start a 10-day collective vacation on Monday, and the workers at the Sao Carlos plant will start an 11-day collective vacation on the same day. 'Collective vacation' is a measure regularly applied by industrial companies to manage production. Brazil’s labor laws normally grant employees around 30 days/year of annual leave. In the industrial sector, as work is a "collective" activity, vacation periods can be organized by the employer for a group of employees, hence the name. STELLANTISIn the meantime, Stellantis – the result of the merger between Fiat Chrysler and PSA Group – told ICIS that it is analyzing whether its other plants in Argentina and Brazil will also need to be shut down. In Cordoba, a province in north Argentina and a major trading partner with Rio Grande do Sul, there are fears that its economy – which is already suffering after the country went into recession – could take a further hit. In Argentina, Stellantis operates another plant in El Palomar, in the Buenos Aires department. In Brazil, its main facilities are in Betim in the state of Minas Gerais. “Stellantis is following with dismay and expresses its solidarity with the victims of the floods in Rio Grande do Sul. The unprecedented impact of the catastrophe has directly affected the logistics system for the transportation and supply of industry components. “The company had to stop production at the Stellantis Automotive Centers in Córdoba, Argentina, and is still analyzing the need for further stoppages at its plants in the region,” said the spokesperson. Both General Motors (GM) and South Korea's Hyundai – who also have production facilities in Brazil – had yet to respond to a request for a comment. A spokesperson for Brazil’s automotive trade group Anfavea did not respond to questions from ICIS about the impact of the floods on the sector's annual output. However, it did say that it would make its first estimates at a press conference on 6 June, when it will publish production, sales and export data for May. Earlier, the trade group said it feared the sector could be hit given Rio Grande do Sul's importance to Brazil's auto industry. INDUSTRY REELS AFTER FLOODSCompanies based in the petrochemicals hub of Triunfo, near Porto Alegre – the biggest city in Rio Grande do Sul – have also shut, mostly as employees are having problems getting to and from work. Companies including Braskem, Innova, and Arlanxeo all declared force majeure from Triunfo in the first week of May. Sources said some of them will try to restart operations this week, although that has not been officially confirmed to ICIS. The automotive industry is a major global consumer of petrochemicals, and chemicals make up more than one-third of the raw material costs for an average vehicle. The automotive sector drives demand for chemicals such as polypropylene (PP), along with nylon, polystyrene (PS), styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), polyurethane (PU), methyl methacrylate (MMA) and polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), among others. Front page picture: Volkswagen's plant in Anchieta, state of Sao Paulo Source: Volkswagen

20-May-2024

Americas top stories: weekly summary

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 17 May. IPEX: Global spot IPEX slips as decline in Asia offsets gains in other regions, crude The global spot ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) slipped 0.1%, as a fall in the northeast Asia index failed to offset gains in other regions and a rise in crude oil prices. Univar sees scope for both industrial and specialty chemicals M&A – CEO Chemicals distributor Univar Solutions will target both industrial and specialty chemicals and ingredients acquisitions as it seeks to be a consolidator in a still-fragmented market, its CEO said. Brazil’s floods-hit state plastics sector under ‘hypothesis’ operations could normalize end May – trade group Plastics producers in Rio Grande do Sul remain shut following the floods but are working under the “hypothesis” operations could normalize by the end of May, a full month after the floods hit the Brazilian state, trade group Abiplast said. US home builder confidence dives as mortgage rates exceed 7% US builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes fell sharply in May as higher mortgage rates “hammer” confidence, the National Association of Home Builders said on Wednesday. Chemical cycle has bottomed and now ‘beginning to turn’ – Dow CEO The global chemical cycle has bottomed out and is starting to turn higher, with a higher degree of confidence in a sustainable recovery ahead, said the CEO of Dow. Houston storm disrupts chems, knocks power out for thousands Powerful thunderstorms in Houston and the Gulf Coast disrupted operations at chemical plants while leaving more than 700,000 without power as of Friday.

20-May-2024

BLOG: China's housing market moves from boom to bust

LONDON (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Chemicals & The Economy by Paul Hodges, which looks at how boom is turning to bust in China’s housing market. 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.

20-May-2024

Europe top stories: weekly summary

LONDON (ICIS)–Here are some of the top stories from ICIS Europe for the week ended 17 May. Europe PET/PTA industry on high alert as freight costs soar Another shock to the logistics system is rippling through the European polyethylene terephthalate (PET) value chain but the impact is only so far just touching the surface. Europe oxo-alcohol spot prices face pressure from growing supply Prices in the European oxo-alcohols spot market were stable to lower this week as there is now plenty supply of all grades. IEA cuts 2024 crude forecast as OECD Q1 demand slips into contraction The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Wednesday cut its expectations for global crude oil demand growth as demand from the OECD shifted into contraction territory in Q1 and as refinery margins continued to slump into the spring period. Non-OPEC+ crude supply growth to slip in 2025, Latin America to drive non-OECD output – OPEC Increases in crude oil supplies from outside the OPEC+ bloc of countries is expected to decline slightly year on year in 2025, with the US and Canada expected to remain the backbone of OECD production increases and Latin America driving the rest of the world, according to OPEC. IPEX: Global spot IPEX slips as decline in Asia offsets gains in other regions, crude The global spot ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) slipped 0.1%, as a fall in the northeast Asia index failed to offset gains in other regions and a rise in crude oil prices.

20-May-2024

Thailand's Q1 GDP growth slows to 1.5% amid weak exports

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Thailand's economy grew by 1.5% year on year in the first quarter, slowing from the 1.7% expansion in the preceding quarter, as private consumption continued to remain robust. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, the Thai economy – southeast Asia's second largest – expanded by 1.1% in the first three months of 2024, the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) said in a statement. The quarterly growth prevented the economy from entering a technical recession, following a revised 0.4% contraction in the final quarter of 2023. Thailand's economy expanded by 1.9% year on year in 2023. Private consumption rose by 6.9% year on year in the first quarter, continuing the 7.4% expansion in the previous quarter, and offsetting a 2.1% decline in government spending. Exports by value fell by 1.0% year on year in the first quarter, weighed by lower volumes, while imports were up 3.2%. Manufacturing declined by 3.0% year on year on in the first quarter, extending the 2.4% decline in the previous quarter. The manufacturing sector in Thailand is dominated by older industries with declining global demand and lags in sectors where global demand is increasing, Nomura Global Markets Research said in a report released on 17 May. This reflects Thailand's failure to move up the supply chain and add value to its export products, a trend that has become increasingly evident in its post-pandemic export structure, it said. Of the ten largest export products, Thailand has gained an increasing share in the global exports of air-conditioners, hard disk drives, and rubber tires. However, the global export share of these products has been declining, with hard disk drives, the largest export product, experiencing a significant drop in global market share. Meanwhile, Thailand's global export share in integrated circuits has declined slightly, even as the segment has seen substantial growth in the global market. "This implies the current global tech turnaround will result in the export underperformance of the country," Nomura added. 2024 FORECAST LOWEREDThe NESDC now expects the Thai economy to expand by 2-3% year on year in 2024, down from the previous range of 2.2-3.2%. The Thai economy still faces downside risks and limitations, particularly from high household and corporate debt levels, the risk of floods affecting agricultural production, and the uncertain and volatile global financial market, it said. As for trade, a downward revision in exports for 2024 was mainly attributed to a decline in export volume during the first quarter of the year and a lowered forecast for global trade volume growth. Initially, export value was anticipated to grow by 2.9%, but this has been revised down to 2.0%, while export volume growth was adjusted from 2.4% to 1.5%. "On the external front, while exports of goods may not benefit from the global tech turnaround, given structural constraints, the slow economic recovery in China should continue to limit the pace of the tourism recovery [in Thailand]," Nomura said. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman

20-May-2024

Asia top stories – weekly summary

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 17 May 2024. Asia melamine makers grapple with increased costs, slowing demand By Joy Foo 17-May-24 11:53 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s melamine spot market for China-origin product was largely stable in the first half of May, even though feedstock urea prices continued to rise, but demand may weaken for the rest of the month. Singapore's April petrochemical exports rise 26.5%; NODX down 9.3% By Nurluqman Suratman 17-May-24 10:45 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Singapore's petrochemical shipments rose by 26.5% year on year in April to Singapore dollar (S$) 1.34 billion, reversing the 3.6% decline in the previous month, official data showed on Friday. PODCAST: China PP exports to weigh on SE Asia on ample propylene supply By Damini Dabholkar 16-May-24 21:55 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The ample supply of propylene in Asia and new polypropylene (PP) capacities in China are expected to weigh on discussions in southeast Asia over the coming months. Tanker incident triggers rate hike on South Korea-Japan trades By Hwee Hwee Tan 16-May-24 11:28 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The intra northeast Asia tanker market is expected to remain stable despite recent volatility in South Korea-Japan chemical freight rates, following a fatal tanker incident off Japan’s west coast. US hikes tariffs on $18bn worth of China imports, including EVs By Nurluqman Suratma 15-May-24 12:20 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–US President Joe Biden is ramping up tariffs on $18 billion worth of imports from China, including electric vehicles (EVs), semiconductors, batteries and other goods, in a move that the White House said was a response to unfair trade practices and intended to protect US jobs. Asia polyester discussions stable amid reduced supply, lower feedstock prices By Judith Wang 14-May-24 14:55 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s polyester export discussions were little changed as the pressure of reduced supply in China was balanced out by weaker feedstock prices.

20-May-2024

LOGISTICS: Container rates continue to surge, liquid chem tanker rates mostly lower

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Average global rates for shipping containers continue to surge, liquid chemical tanker rates ex-US Gulf were mostly softer, and work continues to reopen the Port of Baltimore, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINER RATES Rates for shipping containers surged by double digits again this week on unexpected demand and tight capacity stemming from Red Sea diversions. Average global rates surged by 11% over the week, according to supply chain advisors Drewry and as shown in the following chart. Meanwhile, rates from Shanghai to the US West Coast are up by almost 33% from early-February and rates from Shanghai to the East Coast are more than 30% higher over that period, as shown in the following chart. Drewry expects ex-China freight rates to rise due to increased demand, tight capacity, and the need to reposition empty containers. Emily Stausbøll, senior shipping analyst at ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta, said the speed of the increases is causing nervousness in the market. “Demand reached record levels in Q1 2024, up by 9.2% compared to Q1 2023, and comes at a time when the Red Sea situation is putting increased pressure on shipping capacity,” she said. “But significantly, this is all taking place while the chaos of port congestion and lack of available capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic is still fresh in the memory of shippers.” “Lessons will have been learned from the pandemic. If shippers fear there is going to be a squeeze on capacity during the peak season in Q3 then they are going to start importing more goods now,” Stausbøll said. “If these increased volumes need to be moved on the spot market, then it is going to put upwards pressure on rates." 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 RATES US chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS were mostly lower as rates fell from the US Gulf (USG) to Asia and from the USG to India. However, rates ticked slightly higher for smaller parcels from the USG to Caribbean and surged from the USG to Brazil. From the USG to Rotterdam, it has remained quiet again this week, with available space for part cargo still open. COA volumes have been heavy for owners; however, spot inquiries have been quiet. Due to the available space and softness, this could place further downward pressure on this trade lane. From the USG to the Caribbean, the market has remained higher with very little prompt space available. Owners have pushed to keep freight rates mostly steady; however, there is currently a lack of activity from out of the USG. From the USG to Asia, this market has remained overall soft after a long holiday week in Japan. BALTIMORE, HOUSTON BRIDGE COLLISIONS Traffic in and out of the Houston Ship Channel was not affected after a barge struck a bridge connecting Galveston and Pelican islands on Wednesday morning. JJ Plunkett of the Houston Pilots said the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) was closed, which could slow movement of barges moving finished product from plants along the channel. Ships enter the channel by passing between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula and then move through Galveston Bay before reaching the main section of the channel where refineries, chemical plants and storage facilities are located. The barge collided with a bridge that connects Galveston Island to Pelican Island, located well to the west of where commercial vessels enter and exit Galveston Bay. Meanwhile at the Port of Baltimore, the container ship that essentially closed the port on 26 March after it struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse, is set to be moved now that the mangled remnants of the span were removed from the ship’s bow with controlled blasts on 13 May. Officials continued to evaluate the situation on Friday in preparation for refloating the vessel and clearing the federal channel. Officials have evaluated sonar and lidar imagery but are awaiting results from a dive survey before proceeding with plans to refloat and move the vessel. 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). The ACC said less than 1% of all chemicals involved in waterborne commerce, both domestic and trade volumes, pass through Baltimore. PANAMA CANAL Wait times for non-booked southbound vessels ready for transit surged this week while wait times for northbound vessels edged higher, according to the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times a week ago were 2.6 days for northbound vessels and 2.4 days for southbound vessels. Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan

17-May-2024

Houston storm disrupts chems, knocks power out for thousands

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Powerful thunderstorms in Houston and the Gulf Coast disrupted operations at chemical plants while leaving more than 700,000 without power as of Friday. The storms hit Houston on Thursday evening. TPC Group reported that severe weather caused a power outage, which led to flaring at its butadiene (BD) operations in Houston. Power was restored, and operations returned to the site, TPC said in a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Lotte Chemical has delayed the restart of its cracker and downstream ethylene glycol (EG) unit in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to next week because of bad weather, according to market sources. Lotte did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The storm created winds of 40-78 miles/hour (64-126 km/hour), according to the National Weather Service. Such strong winds created widespread power outages throughout the region. In the late morning, more than 700,000 customers were without power in the Houston area, according to CenterPoint Energy, a power company that is the main transmission company. Overall, more than 777,000 outages were reported in Texas, according to PowerOutage.us. Another 90,000 outages were reported in Louisiana, another state that is home to several petrochemical plants and refineries. The winds reached hurricane force in downtown Houston, where many petrochemical companies have corporate offices. “This was an incredibly dangerous and destructive storm, impacting one of the largest cities and busiest travel hubs in America,” said AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter. “Downtown Houston has not seen wind damage like this since Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Hurricane Alicia in 1983. The winds were even stronger at greater heights because they experienced less friction from low-lying buildings and trees, according to AccuWeather. Wind gusts of 33 miles/hour near ground level would equate to 80 miles/hour at six stories and 90 miles/hour at 10 stories. The wind strength at those elevated stories would be the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale. Preliminary damage estimates from AccuWeather point to $5 billion to $7 billion in total damage and economic loss from the storm in southeast Texas, it said. So far, major railroad companies have not issued any alerts about disruptions to their lines. Port Houston said its terminals are operating as usual. Additional reporting by Adam Yanelli and Melissa Wheeler  (adds paragraphs 3, 5-6, 9-13) Photo shows aftermath of the storms that hit Houston. Image by ICIS.

17-May-2024

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