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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.
Korea’s S-Oil targets $2bn capex for Ulsan oil-to-chems project in '24
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. The full-year capex at W3.14tr was up 54% from 2023, the company said in its Q4 results presentation released in early February. Construction of Shaheen at the Onsan Industrial Complex of Ulsan City started in March 2023 and will be in full swing this year, with mechanical completion targeted by the first half of 2026. The funds that will go to the project – whose name was derived from the Arabic word for falcon – were up 86% from 2023 levels. As of end-December 2023, site preparation was 48% complete, with engineering, procurement and construction at 18.7%, according to S-Oil. “Site preparation and EPC [engineering, procurement and construction] work is under full-fledged execution with the actual progress going smoothly according to the plan,” the company said. The project will leverage on the T2C2 technology of its parent company Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest crude exporter. Aramco owns more than 63% of S-Oil. The project is expected to yield 70% more chemicals, with a capex/operating expenditure savings pegged at 30-40% versus conventional process. Meanwhile, for upgrade and maintenance of plants in 2024, total expenses will fall by about 32% to W298bn, with just two plants due for turnaround in the year – its No 1 crude distillation unit (CDU) and its No 1 lube HDT (hydrotreatment) unit, the company said in the presentation, noting that the plan is preliminary. ICIS had reported that S-Oil will conduct maintenance at its Group I and Group II base oils units in Onsan, Ulsan for more than a month from mid-September this year. On 23 February 2024, a fire broke out at the company’s Onsan production site in Ulsan, shutting one of the three crude distillation units (CDUs) of its 669,000 bbl/day refinery, with some reduction in propylene output of the residue fluid catalytic cracker (RFCC) at the site, industry sources said. Other downstream operations at the site were not affected, but this could not be immediately confirmed with the company. Its Onsan complex can produce 910,000 tonnes/year of propylene; 187,000 tonnes/year of ethylene; 600,000 tonnes/year of benzene; and 1m tonnes/year of paraxylene (PX), according to the ICIS Supply & Demand Database. The company was planning to restart the No 3 CDU by 27 February, news agency Reuters reported, quoting unnamed sources. 2023 NET PROFIT SLUMPSS-Oil posted a 54.9% slump in net profit, with sales sliding by about 16% to as operating rates across its plants declined. in billion won (W) FY2023* FY2022 Yr-on-yr % change Revenue 35,726.7 42,446.0 -15.8 Operating income 1,354.6 3,405.2 -60.2 Net income 948.8 2,104.4 -54.9 *Revised figures from S-Oil on 26 February 2024 in billion won (W) FY2023 FY2022 Yr-on-yr % change Refining operating profit 399.1 2,344.3 -83.0 Petrochemical operating profit 203.7 -49.8 -509.0 Lube operating profit 815.7 1,110.7 -26.6 Source: S-Oil presentation, 2 February 2024 Average operating rates across the company’s plants declined and were in the range of 75.1% to 90.4% in 2023 due to weakening global demand, with paraxylene (PX) plants registering the lowest run rate. Source: S-Oil, February 2024 2024 OUTLOOK “Regional refining markets are forecast to maintain an above average level by steady demand growth coupled with low inventory levels,” S-Oil said. Refining margins in the first quarter will likely be supported by “heating demand in winter and spring maintenance season", it said. “With uncertainties on start-up timing and pace of major new refineries, market impact is estimated to be restricted in 2H [second half] or beyond,” the company said. Paraxylene (PX) and benzene markets “are projected to be supported by firm demand growth” on the back of new downstream expansions as well as demand for gasoline blending, “amid drastically reduced capacity addition”. Polypropylene (PP) and propylene oxide (PO) markets “are likely to gradually improve in tandem with pace of China’s economic recovery, while pressures from capacity addition continues”, while for lube base oils (LBO), the product spread is projected to be solid “on limited capacity additions and sustained demand growth”, according to S-Oil. Thumbnail image: S-Oil's Residue Upgrading Complex (RUC) and the Olefin Downstream Complex (ODC) in Ulsan, South Korea (Source: S-Oil) Focus article by Pearl Bantillo ($1 = W1,334)
VIDEO: China VAM market remains firm post-holiday on tighter spot supply
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. Domestic operating rate remains low at around 70% NE Asian producers gradually shut units for maintenance Ethylene-based VAM supply to continue falling in March-April ICN
GLM FOCUS: What Qatar's latest LNG expansion plan means for market
LONDON (ICIS)–Qatar’s decision to add a further 16mtpa of LNG production by 2030 has a broad impact across the market, affecting prices, US LNG, buying activity, and shipping. Two more trains will take Qatari LNG production up to 142mtpa, representing over a quarter of global demand by late in the decade. As with past projects, Qatar appears less reliant on achieving contractual offtake, equity investments or a resulting final investment decision (FID) to move forward. The LNG giant’s ability to push ahead with an early announcement strengthens its hand securing offtake at the expense of future competitors, particularly as the market turns in buyers’ favour. Sources said that Qatar has already been negotiating with buyers in India to secure long-term offtake. Buyers in China are also aware of a strong marketing drive in Asia. However, offtakers are also showing signs of delaying any agreements where possible, as competition for offtake into the 2030s heats up, said sources. Current equity-holders did not respond to requests for comment over rights to bid for further investment. US PROJECTS Some US sources expected European buyers to continue to prefer US LNG over Qatari supply, avoiding the Suez Canal. Asian buyers, though, see less risk in Qatari supply, sources said. But the regulatory pause on new US LNG project approvals means little new contracting activity is likely. Last month, the Biden administration announced it would halt approvals for new US LNG projects until it updates how their economic and environmental impact is evaluated. That might change either after the US presidential election or when updated guidance from the US Department of Energy (DOE) is released. How LNG demand will develop is also important to understanding the impact of Qatar’s additional 16mtpa. “LNG demand is forecast to grow beyond production, capacity in operation or under construction, so new supply sources are required,” said a Shell spokesperson, calling continued investment in LNG “critical”. Before the latest Qatari expansion was announced, Shell forecast global LNG demand to overtake supply around 2027. But ICIS Analytics shows demand is unlikely to outstrip supply before 2030, given a less optimistic view on demand growth. “If we only include projects [with FIDs], there is a chance that in 2030 global oversupply might turn into undersupply,” said ICIS lead Asia gas analyst Alex Siow. “As such, Qatar’s increased capacity is only exacerbating the current oversupply from 2026 to 2030,” he said, adding there will be “many options for buyers by 2026-2030”. “Even without the additional 16mtpa from Qatar, many US projects [that have completed FIDs] are already impacted by the global oversupply from 2026.” The result could be US projects lowering output, increasing maintenance periods, or offering increasingly competitive prices by using mechanisms like financing or declaring sunk costs. ACTIVE QATARI MARKETING IN ASIA Many Chinese buyers would like to wait to see if pricing offer levels fall, sources in China said. And Chinese buyers may not be the only ones not willing to sign new deals just yet. “Those who can wait at least until after US elections will,” said one source close to South East Asia buyers. Significantly lower spot prices mean long-term contracts are less attractive for now, strengthening buyer positions. EUROPEAN GAS PRICES fall Several trading sources said they were clear that Qatar’s announcement was the key factor in pushing annual 2027 and 2028 TTF contracts down on 26 February. The TTF 2028 contract price dropped 1.4% to $8.74/MMBtu, with the 2027 contract falling 0.4%. Prices up to 2026 increased the same day. One trader in northwest Europe noted that increased supply later this decade could help Europe shift from its current role as the premium global market. “Who [in Europe] wants a 20-year contract?” said the trader. “Qatari …volumes make sense for Asian buyers …that could free up LNG for Europe from the US and [flexible] volumes.” Yet Qatar could still turn to Europe for some offtake to add to its terminal capacity rights. Negotiations for Qatari offtake with buyers in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were ongoing in 2023, sources said. No agreement to deliver LNG into Germany for onward delivery to its neighbours was reached because of perceived high exit fees. A Germany-based source said the government is also still keen to encourage a shorter long-term contract. Exit fees could also change. Routes to Austria and the region may include Italy and Greece in future, given that interconnectors from Italy to Greece are being expanded. SHIPPING Even as Qatari offtake falls from 2029 into the 2030s, spurring Qatar to secure further volumes, it appears well-supplied with shipping options. Newbuild prices remain high but have been falling since 2023, dropping from $265m to $262m by early February, according to shipowner Flex LNG. And with over 100 newbuild vessel slots between Korean and Chinese shipyards, they can afford to wait, according to ICIS analyst Robert Songer. But there are questions over whether it now needs to expand the fleet further (see box-out). Additional reporting by Yueyi Yang and Fauzeya Rahman
PODCAST: Antwerp Declaration shows chemicals CEOs mean business
BARCELONA (ICIS)–Leaders are now more willing to stand up and demand positive action by the EU to save the region’s industrial value chains. Antwerp Declaration shows chemicals leaders now willing to be visible CEOs have responsibility to help drive Europe transformation Regulators, politicians can deliver better infrastructure, permitting European Parliament elections 6-9 June may elect more business-friendly MEPs Fundamental shift in Europe demand patterns BASF expected to reinvent its Ludwigshafen Verbund site Future could see domination by “supermajors” or more protected, regional markets In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews ICIS Insight Editor, Nigel Davis; ICIS Senior Consultant Asia, John Richardson; and Paul Hodges, chairman of New Normal Consulting. Editor’s note: This podcast is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the presenter and interviewees, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS. ICIS is organising regular updates to help the industry understand current market trends. Register here. Read the latest issue of ICIS Chemical Business. Read Paul Hodges' and John Richardson's ICIS blogs.
BLOG: How Europe can avoid 'sleepwalking' towards offshoring of petrochemicals
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson: The European petrochemicals industry, to borrow Jim Ratcliffe’s phrase, does not have to continue “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions”. Ratcliffe, the INEOS chairman, was on the money with the phrase, contained in a call-to-action letter to European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, earlier this month. This came in the same week that producers launched the Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal. This is all great news for the European industry as my two scenarios for global petrochemicals in 2030 – Supermajors or Deglobalisation – will be shaped by the actions of companies and legislators. In Europe, the threat of a further flood of competitively priced and lower-carbon imports of polymers risks lost local jobs in refining, petrochemicals and downstream (the downstream jobs being many more than upstream). And if petrochemicals plants shut plant, upstream refineries important for local fuels supply may be threatened. You can also make a case for recycling targets being hard to achieve under Supermajors. As well as lobbying legislators, what else can European producers do? Here are my suggestions: Companies need to “make their own demand” by more forcefully arguing the case for the societal and environmental value of what they produce (while, of course, also ensuring that what they produce has strong social and environmental values!). A deeper dive into the opportunities in different end-use markets and geographies is the key. Let’s take wire-and-cable grade low-density PE (LDPE) as an example. A lot more electricity transmission in Europe will have to be built to distribute renewable energy, which of course is an environmental gain and elsewhere in the world. Could European wire-and-cable LDPE producers be a leader in providing product to Africa? This is a very different approach than during the 1993-2021 Supercycle, when booming demand was guaranteed. All producers had to do as ensure there was enough supply, preferably with low feedstock costs and efficient logistics. 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.
Saudi SABIC swings to net loss in 2023 on Hadeed sale, challenging market
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Saudi Arabia’s chemicals major SABIC swung to a net loss of Saudi riyal (SR) 2.77bn ($739m) in 2023, largely due to one-off losses related to a divestment, while earnings from continued operations shrank amid challenging global market conditions. in Saudi Riyal (SR) bn 2023 2022 % Change Revenue 141.5 183.1 -22.7 EBITDA 19.0 36.4 -47.7 Net income from continuing operations 1.3 15.8 -91.8 Net income attributable to equity holders of the parent -2.8 16.5 – The company's net loss for 2023 was "driven mainly from the fair valuation of the Saudi Iron and Steel Co (Hadeed) business", SABIC in a filing to the Saudi bourse Tadawul on 27 February. In early September 2023, SABIC announced it had agreed to sell its entire stake in the Saudi Iron and Steel Co (Hadeed) to Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund for SR12.5bn. The sale resulted in non-cash losses worth SR2.93bn. From continuing operation, full-year net income declined by 91.8% on reduced profit margins for major products, as well as lower earnings of joint ventures and associated firms. SABIC also incurred charges from non-recurring items amounting to SR3.47bn in 2023,“as a result of impairment charges and write-offs of certain capital and financial assets as well as provisions for the restructuring program in Europe and constructive obligations”. Meanwhile, SABIC’s average product sales price in 2023 fell by 21%, reflecting the global downturn in petrochemical markets, it said. Overall sales volumes fell by 2% year on year in 2023 amid sluggish end-user demand, the company said. "Year 2023 presented numerous challenges for the petrochemical industry – the market environment was shaped by lackluster macroeconomic sentiment, weak end-user demand, and a wave of incremental supply for a large suite of products," it said. The company's petrochemicals business posted a 20% year-on-year decline in sales to SR131.3bn in 2023, with EBITDA down by 42% at SR14.6bn. "The petrochemical industry navigates a challenging operating environment – underwhelming demand within our target markets led to lower year end product prices and there remains considerable uncertainty heading into the first quarter of 2024," SABIC CEO Abdulrahman Al-Fageeh said. "The announced divestment of Hadeed is proceeding as planned – this optimization of internal resources will enhance our core focus on petrochemicals," he said. SABIC is also pursuing a number of initiatives to address the "competiveness of our European assets" aimed at a "maintainable and modernized footprint in the region", Al-Fageeh added. The company plans a higher capital expenditure of between $4bn and 5bn in 2024, compared with $3.5bn-3.8bn last year. SABIC has started construction of its $6.4bn manufacturing complex in China’s southern Fujian province. The project will include a mixed-feed steam cracker with up to 1.8m tonne/year ethylene (C2) capacity and various downstream units producing ethylene glycols (EG), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polycarbonate (PC), among other products. SABIC is 70%-owned by energy giant Saudi Aramco. ($1 = SR3.75)
European Commission calls for member states to maintain gas demand cuts
LONDON (ICIS)–The European Commission on Tuesday urged member states to maintain current gas consumption reductions as the expiration date of emergency legislation mandating the cuts approaches. Introduced in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent scramble in the EU to reduce its exposure to natural gas supplies from the country, the two-year emergency bill called for EU countries to reduce gas consumption by 15% compared to April 2017 – March 2022 averages to shore up limited reserves. According to the Commission, governments collectively reduced demand by 18% between August 2022 and December 2023, with efforts to reduce consumption driven by soaring prices in the winter of 2022 that led to the introduction of price caps in the EU and by some individual member states. ENERGY IMPACT Prior to the onset of the war, the EU derived over half of its supplies of natural gas, which had been embraced as a means of lowering CO2 emissions, particularly following Germany’s move to phase out nuclear energy. Gas had surged from under $200 per metric million British thermal units (/MMBtu) at the start of the 2022 to over $1,700 in October of that year. Pricing has subsided since then but energy pricing remains a concern, particularly for energy intensive industries. Citing energy costs as a key factor behind a decision to push for drastic cuts at its Germany headquarters, BASF stated that 2023 natural gas pricing in Europe remained twice the 2019-21 average and five times US Henry Hub averages, although prices have fallen this year. BASF’s move to scale back its Ludwigshafen Verbund complex was attributed by CEO Martin Brudermuller to what he termed temporary factors such as demand, and other drivers such as higher energy costs, which he claimed are “structural” in Europe. FUTURE PROPOSALS The current emergency legislation is set to expire on 31 March this year, but the European Commission is proposing to adopt a Council recommendation calling for member states to maintain the voluntary reductions that have been adopted over the last two years. The target would be to maintain gas consumption at 15% below 2017-22 averages, the Commission said, with Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson and EU energy ministers to discuss the measure on 4 March. Despite a more stable European gas market outlook and less volatile pricing, tight global markets and geopolitical upheaval mean that EU economies need to remain vigilant, according to a Commission statement. "The persistence of geopolitical tensions, tight global gas markets and the EU's objective to completely get rid of Russian fossil fuels, continued energy savings are still necessary," the Commission said. Thumbnail photo source: Hollandse Hoogte/Shutterstock
Falling Ukraine VTP prices may help resurrect gas market competition – trading association CEO
Ukrainian VTP prices are converging with EU values Falling prices could incentivise return to free market rules Gas Traders of Ukraine CEO says softening supply risks could see cross-border trading resume LONDON (ICIS)–Ukraine could lift gas trading regulatory restrictions and revert to free market arrangements as a window of opportunity is opening up, the CEO of the association Gas Traders of Ukraine said. Andrii Myzovets said falling gas prices on the Ukrainian domestic market may soon converge with tariffs on the regulated household segment, which means the cap could be lifted if the downward trend continues. The government implemented martial law at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This translated into restrictions across the board, including the gas market, where household tariffs were capped and gas exports banned. As civilian infrastructure has come under attack over the last two years, gas demand has fallen, with this decrease exacerbated by bearish fundamentals. Front month Ukraine VTP prices exclusive of value added tax (VAT) have been falling below Ukraine hryvnia (UAH) 11,300/kscm (€25.75/MWh). To compare, the Ukrainian regulated household tariff exclusive of VAT is UAH 6,633/kscm and exceeds UAH 7,000/kscm when retail related charges are added. MORE COMPETITION The household segment is critical to revitalising the wholesale and retail markets because demand from industrial consumers who buy at free market prices has shrunk. Myzovets said industrial consumption prior to the war was close to 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) annually. However, industrial demand has now dropped to 4bcm/year. Ukraine’s overall annual demand has now shrunk by a third to nearly 20bcm/year. This means that most of the remaining demand is covered by the state-owned producer Naftogaz at regulated tariffs. Since the start of the war, Naftogaz has consolidated its position, either expanding domestic output via its production arms Ukrgasvydobuvannya (UGV), taking over nationalised distribution assets, expanding its retail services or dominating the wholesale market by snapping up volumes produced by indepedents. By the end of 2023, Naftogaz’s total share in production was 74%. While UGV and Ukrnafta increased their production by more than 5% in 2023 compared to the previous year, independents saw their output plunge by 15% as some of the privately-owned assets were nationalised. Prior to the start of war, Ukraine had sought to liberalise its wholesale and retail markets, successfully lifting all price caps in August 2020, in line with commitments to align with EU free market rules. Nevertheless, rising demand following the lifting of covid related lockdown restrictions and the turmoil sparked by war also led to a decoupling of the Ukrainian market from neighbouring EU hubs. LIFTING RESTRICTIONS Myzovets believes that as supply risks are now softening, there is a case to lift other restrictions including a ban on gas exports from the internal market and reignite cross-border trading. Non-resident traders who are injecting gas in storage can reexport the gas to their home markets but locally produced volumes cannot be sold abroad. Cross-border trading with neighbouring EU markets came to a halt after the war as companies could not afford to buy comparatively more expensive gas on hubs. Naftogaz has also sought to pause its dependence on imports to limit costs. Nevertheless, as Ukrainian and EU hub prices are now beginning to align, there could be greater incentives to rekindle cross-border trading interest. Finally, Myzovets also believes that by allowing the privatisation of smaller shares in the state-producer UGV, the state could also help to increase competition and gradually revert to pre-war free market arragements. “Naftogaz could keep a majority stake and sell smaller shares to western buyers,” he said.
Japan January inflation at 2.0%; end to negative interest rates in sight
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. Consumer inflation at lowest since March 2022 BoJ’s benchmark interest rate at -0.1% since Jan 2016 Weaker yen drives up import costs The core consumer price index (CPI) – which excludes volatile fresh food prices – in January weakened from 2.3% in the previous month, marking its third straight month that the country's inflation has slowed, data from the Statistics Bureau showed on Tuesday. January's core CPI reading also marks its lowest point since March 2022 as cost of imported raw materials decreased but the number came in higher than market expectations. "[BoJ] Governor Kazuo Ueda has expressed confidence of anchoring inflation above the government’s target of 2% and inflation reading is expected to pick up in February as the impact from the government’s price relief measures fades on a year-on-year basis, boosting market expectations that the BOJ is nearing the end of its ultra-loose monetary policy soon," Malaysia-based HongLeong Bank said in a research note on Tuesday. The sharp depreciation of the yen has caused Japan's import bill to soar. At 03:45 GMT, the yen was trading at Y150.48 against the US dollar, down by more than 6% from the start of the year. Source: xe.com Japan relies significantly on imported crude oil as it lacks substantial domestic production. About 80-90% of its crude oil imports are sourced from the Middle East, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). While the country’s domestic refineries can satisfy demand for transportation fuels, it imports liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and naphtha heavily as domestic production does not meet the required levels. ALL EYES ON BOJ The BoJ is widely expected to end its negative interest policy, introduced in January 2016, by April this year. The policy was kept for years to stimulate credit growth and investment, in the central bank’s fight against deflation. In its latest meeting in January, the central bank kept its benchmark interest rate at -0.1%, but its quarterly economic report hinted at possible policy normalisation. For the whole of 2023, Japan’s consumer inflation posted an annualized average of 3.1%, up from the previous year’s 2.3% average and the highest recorded since 1982, because of the weaker yen, which made imports more expensive. Despite BoJ officials' confidence in hitting the 2% inflation target, recent data undermines this view following two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction due to weak consumption. Japan’s economy shrank by an annualised rate of 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2023, following a 2.9% contraction in the July-September period. For the whole of 2023, it posted a 1.9% growth. Because of the recession in the second half of last year, the country was overtaken by Germany as the third-biggest economy in the world. "The challenging growth outlook for Japan adds further risk to a delay to our projected timeline for BOJ normalisation in 2024," Singapore-based UOB Global Economics & Markets Research said. "That said, we still expect BOJ’s normalisation to commence only after 2024’s Shunto Spring wage negotiations between major corporations and unions which takes place around March," it added. Shunto is the Japanese term for “spring wage offensive”. The season, which is typically between February and April, refers to a period when thousands of Japanese labor unions simultaneously negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: Large container cranes stand at a port in Tokyo, Japan on 15 February 2024. (FRANCK ROBICHON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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