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ICIS Supply and Demand Database

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SHIPPING: Global container rates edge higher, volumes shifting to West Coast ahead of tariffs

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global shipping container rates edged slightly higher this week as they continue to moderate after more than doubling from early-May, and rates from Shanghai to the US West Coast fell, according to supply chain advisors Drewry. Drewry’s composite World Container Index (WCI) rose by just 1% and is up by just 1.2% over the past two week, as shown in the following chart. Average rates from China to the US East Coast have continued to rise and are nearing $10,000/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit), as shown in the following chart. Drewry expects ex-China rates to hold steady next week and remain high throughout the peak season. Rates from online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos showed similar rates of increase. Judah Levine, head of research at Freightos, in noting the slower rate of increase also pointed to signs that prices may have already peaked. “Daily rates so far this week are ticking lower and major carriers have not announced surcharge increases for later this month or August,” Levine said. Levine said peak season likely started early this year as retailers ordered early to beat possible labor issues at US Gulf and East Coast ports and as consumers continued to spend on goods. Emily Stausboll, senior shipping analyst at ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta, said she is seeing some carriers already lowering spot rates. “This suggests a growing level of available capacity in the market and shippers can once again start to play carriers off against each other – instead of feeling they need to pay whatever price they are offered to secure space. As the balance of negotiating power starts to swing back towards shippers, we should see spot rates start to come back down,” Stausboll said. Container ships and costs for shipping containers are relevant to the chemical industry because while most chemicals are liquids and are shipped in tankers, container ships transport polymers, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. VOLUMES SHIFT TO WEST COAST The Port of Los Angeles saw a 10% increase from the previous month and a slight increase year on year in volumes, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said. Some retailers are rushing to import volumes ahead of the US presidential election in November as Republican nominee Donald Trump has proposed hiking tariffs, especially on goods from China. But a persistently strong economy is also supporting the rise in imports. “The US economy continues to be the primary driver of our cargo volume and I expect to see that continue in the months ahead,” Seroka said. Many importers shifted their deliveries to the US East Coast in 2022 when congestion at West Coast ports surged amid strong consumer demand coming out of the pandemic. The shift in volumes from the East Coast has not led to any congestions at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California (MESC). “Vessels and cargo arriving, departing, and shifting around the ports of LA and LB and continue to move normally with no labor delays and ample labor,” MESC executive director Kip Louttit said. Louttit also said the forecast for arriving container ships over the next two weeks is trending higher. LIQUID CHEM TANKER RATES Rates for liquid chemical tankers ex-US Gulf were stable to softer this week, with decreases seen on the USG-Asia and USG-Brazil trade lanes. From the USG to Asia, there has still been interest in large cargoes, but volumes overall have been slowing down. The absence of market participants has caused freight rates to stumble some, with more downward pressure on smaller parcels due to the small pockets of space readily available. From the USG to Brazil, the list of ships open in the USG continues to grow, with space still available which could lead to continued downward pressure and even lower rates. Activity typically picks up during summer months, but this is not currently being seen. PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal will limit transits from 3-4 August because of planned maintenance. The east lane of the Miraflores locks will be out of service for concrete maintenance on the east approach wall, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) said. The PCA began limiting transits in July 2023 because of low water levels in Gatun Lake caused by an extended drought. Restrictions have gradually eased over the past few months and are approaching the average daily transits of 36-38/day seen prior to impacts from the drought. The improved conditions at the canal are likely to improve transit times for vessels traveling between the US Gulf and Asia, as well as between Europe and west coast Latin America countries. This should benefit chemical markets that move product between regions. Wait times for non-booked southbound vessels ready for transit have been relatively steady at less than two days, according to the PCA vessel tracker. Wait times were less than a day for northbound vessels and less than two days for southbound traffic. Focus article by Adam Yanelli With additional reporting by Kevin Callahan Visit the ICIS Logistics – impact on chemicals and energy topic page.


ICIS Economic Summary: US eyes coming interest rate cuts as consumer spending, inflation eases

NEW YORK (ICIS)–With solid progress on disinflation and the labor market easing, financial markets are sharpening their focus on the coming interest rate cut cycle, with the first move expected in September. Ten-year Treasury yields are collapsing and economically sensitive stocks surging, as consensus moves to as much as three cuts of 25 basis points by the Federal Reserve in 2024 and further easing next year. All this comes as the consumer – the key driver of the US economy – is showing signs of fatigue. With COVID-era savings largely tapped out and the labor market easing, consumer spending is poised to slow going forward, bringing down overall economic growth as well as inflation. The latest US retail sales report confirmed the trend of a continuing slowdown in consumer spending, with June flat versus May. Year-on-year, retail sales were up just 2.3% – lower than the current inflationary trend.  This also implies a drop in volumes. There was notable year-on-year strength in ecommerce (+8.9%), bars and restaurants (+4.4%) and apparel (+4.3%). Weakness was led by furniture and home furnishings (-4.0%); sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments and books (-3.4%) and motor vehicles and parts (-2.2%). We are not talking about a collapse in consumer spending, but an easing is clearly in effect, naturally in line with a softening labor market. The unemployment rate has continued to slowly tick higher and is now at 4.1% versus a low of 3.4% in January. And the ratio of job openings versus unemployed now stands at 1.2 – close to pre-pandemic levels. The number of high-profile US retail earnings disappointments and stock price collapses continues to pile up. These include Helen of Troy, a producer of branded consumer home, outdoor, beauty and wellness products, sportswear giant Nike, coffee and beverage retailer Starbucks and restaurant group McDonald’s – all in the consumer discretionary camp. INFLATION RATE CONTINUES TO FALLThis slowdown in consumer spending is showing up in inflation numbers as well, with the June core Consumer Price Index (CPI) – excluding food and energy – actually falling 0.1% from May. From a year ago, it was up 3.3% in June, showing further progress from May’s 3.4% print. Services inflation has been sticky, but relief may be on its way. The ISM® US Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI®) for June showed a huge 5.0-point decline from May to 48.8 – in contraction territory (under 50) for the second month in three. On the US manufacturing front, the recovery is sputtering as the ISM US Manufacturing PMI fell further in June to 48.5 – in contraction for the third consecutive month after eking out an expansion in March for the first time in 17 months. This puts the widely expected H2 recovery in chemicals volumes in jeopardy. US housing starts rose 3.0% in June versus May to an annualized pace of 1.35 million, but the gains were in the multifamily sector as single-family starts fell for the fourth consecutive month – by 2.2% in June. Total June starts were down 3.1% year on year. ICIS projects US housing starts of 1.43 million for 2024, rising to 1.49 million in 2025. US light vehicle sales ended Q2 on a sour note, with June sales falling 4.0% from May to a 15.3-million-unit pace, which was also off 4.8% from a year ago. For 2024, ICIS projects light vehicle sales improving to 15.8 million units versus 15.5 units in 2023 and rising further to 16.3 million units in 2025. ICIS forecasts US GDP growth slowing to 2.3% in 2024 from 2.5% in 2023, with the quarterly rate by Q4 at just 1.6%. For all of 2025, ICIS sees GDP growth slowing to 1.8%. While consumer spending is easing and high interest rates continue to weigh on manufacturing and key chemical end markets of housing and automotive, coming rate cuts by the Fed should boost sentiment and ultimately demand, particularly in cyclical sectors. Chemical stock prices are already catching a bid in anticipation. Even as the interest rate picture clears up, uncertainty abounds on the geopolitical and political fronts, with the upcoming US election in November in focus. For the chemical and manufacturing sectors, the spotlight on tariffs and their implications will only intensify.


VIDEO: Gas In Focus energy highlights

LONDON (ICIS)–Gas In Focus editor Katya Zapletnyuk and deputy editor Marta Del Buono discuss the surge of populist movements in recent EU and member state elections and its impact on energy markets. Europe has been hurt by the energy crisis and high energy costs are driving businesses to other parts of the world. Consumers are demanding a focus shift from climate targets to competitiveness and security. Click here to watch


VIDEO: Eastern Europe R-PET colourless flake, bale prices turn bullish

LONDON (ICIS)–Senior editor for recycling Matt Tudball discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: Bullish outlook for eastern Europe bales and flake Upwards pressure appearing when market usually quietens down for summer Wider market expects bale supply to improve during August Outlook from September onwards still uncertain


BLOG: Petrochemicals after the Supercycle: Revised scenarios

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson. The slide in today’s post is an updated version of the slide I first published late last year. Note that there is a new scenario added to the original two, A Bi-polar World. I could be wrong, of course. I might have given the wrong weightings to each of the scenarios, or more simply have chosen the wrong scenarios entirely. But today’s events point to very different outcomes than we saw during the 1992-2021 Petrochemicals Supercycle. Supermajors – 25% probabilityA small number of oil-and-gas-to-petrochemicals players dominate the business as they have increasingly turned oil and natural-gas liquids into petrochemicals at competitive costs. This is in response to the decline in crude-oil demand into transportation fuels because of the electrification of vehicles. Non-integrated petrochemical producers in Europe, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Southeast Asia consolidate. Large swathes of capacity closes-down in these countries and regions to balance markets. A Bi-Polar World – 50% probabilityThe split between China and the US, and possibly the EU as well, widens. The rest of the developed world, including major petrochemical players in countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan, will need to decide where they stand: With the US and its partners or with China and its partners. They are at risk of losing access to the China market. Petrochemicals trade is largely confined to between China and its partners and between the US and its partners. No one scenario will be completely right. We could end up at any of many points between each of these three extreme outcomes. This is the case with Supermajors and A Bi-polar World. It could be that the closer relationship between Saudi Arabia and China allows Saudi Arabia to supply more of China’s petrochemicals deficits, allowing the Kingdom to perhaps realise some of its crude-oil-to-chemicals ambitions. A De-globalised World – 25% probabilityMarkets are in general much more regional. Instead of just a bi-polar world, we end up with beggar-thy-neighbour trade barriers similar in scale to the ones which led to the Great Depression. Petrochemical companies become much more “local for local”. Governments put up barriers to protect jobs and to ensure refineries don’t shut down along with uncompetitive petrochemical plants, thereby by protecting local supplies of transportation fuels. While extreme outcomes help push people out their comfort zones, supporting local petrochemical companies might instead fit at some mid-way point between all the scenarios. And “local for local” shouldn’t be viewed as automatically a bad thing. One can argue that because of today’s highly uncertain geopolitical world, local supplies of at least some petrochemicals are essential. Calling all senior management teams out there: You need to prepare your teams for the world after the Petrochemicals Supercycle. 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.


ICIS EXPLAINS: H2Global pilot auction results

LONDON (ICIS)–On 11 July the first auction results from the German H2Global programme were released, providing the European hydrogen market critical information on the green premium across the supply side as ammonia participants switch to lower-carbon, cleaner products. H2Global is a double auction system that procures international volumes of hydrogen and re-sells them domestically, providing a subsidy based on how low the sell price of the market is against how high the buy price is. ICIS has produced the following infographic to contextualise the update.


Braskem Idesa ethane supply more stable, PE prices to recover in H2 2025 – exec

MADRID (ICIS)–Supply of ethane from Pemex to polyethylene (PE) producer Braskem Idesa is now more stable after a renegotiation of the contract – but the global PE market remains in the doldrums, according to an executive at the Mexican firm. Sergio Plata, head of institutional relations and communications at Braskem Idesa, said a recovery in global PE prices could start in the second half of 2025 as the market is expected to remain oversupplied in the coming quarters. Plata explained how Braskem Idesa had to renegotiate the terms of an agreement with Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned crude oil major, for the supply of natural gas-based ethane, one of the routes to produce PE, to its facilities in Coatzacoalcos. Supply is now more stable and in the quantities agreed, he said. Braskem Idesa operates the Ethylene XXI complex in Coatzacoalcos, south of the industrial state of Veracruz, which has capacity to produce 1.05 million tonnes/year of ethylene and downstream capacities of 750,000 tonnes/year for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and 300,000 tonnes/year for low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Braskem Idesa is a joint venture made up of Brazil’s polymers major Braskem (75%) and Mexican chemical producer Grupo Idesa (25%). ETHANE FLOWING, TERMINAL IN Q1 2025 Pemex agreed with Braskem Idesa to supply the PE producer with a minimum volume of 30,000 barrels/day of ethane until the beginning of 2025, when Braskem Idesa plans to start up an import terminal in Coatzacoalcos to allow it to tap into exports out of the US Gulf Coast. However, both parties sat to renegotiate that agreement after Pemex’s supply proved to be unstable, with credit rating agencies such as Fitch warning in 2023 of the “operational risk” such a deal with the state-owned major represented for Braskem Idesa. The outcome of the renegotiation is starting to bear fruit, explained Plata diplomatically, without providing any details. He conceded, however, that to outsiders, Pemex’s businesses could look rather odd. “We understand the positions of a public entity such as Pemex, and we understand its methods could look questionable to eyes outside our relationship,” said Plata. “However, at Braskem Idesa we were confident that if we sat down with them to renegotiate, clearly stating what we require from each other, we could reach a point in the renegotiation which worked for us as a company and for the Mexican petrochemicals sector as a whole.” Together with more stable supply from Pemex, Braskem Idesa also adopted the so-called Fast Track to import ethane while its own import terminal starts up. The terminal, known as Terminal Quimica Puerto Mexico (TQPM), closed the last financing details at the end of 2023. Plata said the terminal would start up “without a doubt” by the beginning of 2025, adding that construction was 70% complete by the beginning of July. According to Plata, with Pemex’s more stable ethane supply and the Fast Track system, Braskem Idesa is operating at 70-75% capacity utilization. PE MARKET WOES As a PE producer, Braskem Idesa remains exposed to the global downturn in polymers prices due to oversupplies. Plata said the downturn has been a “very hard” period for polymers producers, who may still face 12 more months of downturn. In its latest financial statement for the first quarter, Braskem Idesa’s sales fell by 2%, year on year, and the company posted a net loss. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) rose. Braskem Idesa (in $ million) Q1 2024 Q1 2023 Change Q4 2023 Change Q1 2024 vs Q4 2024 Sales 229 234 -2% 199 15% Net profit/loss -85 1 N/A -101 -16% EBITDA 36 26 36% 26 39% PE sales volumes (in tonnes) 205,500 195,100 5.4% 174,500 17.8% “We have had a very complex environment, with increased capacities in the US or China and with the war in Ukraine raising our production costs. We are undoubtedly in a down cycle and as a company we have tried to take care of our margins by controlling our costs and look closely at our investments,” said Plata. He said he “would not have the answer” about what to do with China’s dumping of product around the world, a fact that in Brazil, the largest Latin American economy, has prompted chemicals trade group Abiquim to lobby hard for higher import tariffs in polymers, as well as dozens of other chemicals. “Market analysts predict the current cycle may come to an end in the second half of 2025. Let’s hope so… This has been such a long crisis, aggravated by external factors such as wars and global convulsions, which undoubtedly also affect the industry, and the environment remains very uncertain.” Front page picture: Braskem Idesa’s facilities in Coatzacoalcos Source: Braskem Idesa Interview article by Jonathan Lopez Next week, ICIS will publish the second part of the interview with Plata, with his views on the challenges and opportunities for the chemicals and manufacturing sectors under the upcoming Administration led by President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum amid the nearshoring trend


PODCAST: Northeast Asia MDI supply tighter in Q3 but demand to stay slow

SHANGHAI (ICIS)–In this podcast, markets reporter Shannen Ng discusses how northeast Asia’s methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) supply is expected to remain tight as Q3 progresses. However, poor demand expectations in the Asian import markets for the rest of this quarter remain. Polymeric MDI sentiment in SE Asia, India supported by tight supply Monomeric MDI particularly sluggish and expected to remain so Weak demand outlook for China’s downstream construction and automotive sectors


PODCAST: Europe PE, PP July outlook

LONDON (ICIS)–Europe’s run up to holiday season has been unusually busy for polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) markets, including some spot prices reversing for the first time since March 2024. In this ICIS podcast, European PE and PP senior editors Vicky Ellis and Ben Lake pick out July’s big themes, from logistics (hurricane Beryl and still-spiked Asian freight rates) to the mismatch between how local suppliers and converters are experiencing demand this month. They also highlight what to watch for August. Editing by Damini Dabholkar


Shipping disruptions now affect Maersk's global trade routes amid Red Sea crisis

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Shipping disruptions affecting Maersk's container shipping operations because of the Red Sea crisis have extended beyond the Far East-Europe routes to its entire global network, the shipping and logistics giant said. The fallout of the Red Sea crisis is continuing to cascade across the world, forcing vessels to temporarily divert and take longer routes around the Cape of Good Hope, thereby causing unprecedented challenges for global supply chains. The disruptions now extend beyond the primary affected routes, causing congestion at alternative routes and transshipment hubs essential for trade with Far East Asia, West Central Asia, and Europe, Maersk said in a statement on 17 July. Ports across the Asia Pacific, including Singapore, Australia, and China, are experiencing delays due to congestion. The coming months will be challenging for carriers and businesses alike, as the Red Sea situation stretches into the third quarter of this year, Maersk CEO Vincent Clerc said. Maersk operates around 740 ships across its various divisions, including container ships, tankers, and other specialized vessels. Extending rotations to travel the longer route around Africa takes two to three ships, depending on the trade in question, he said. "We are going to have in the coming month missing positions or ships that are sailing that are significant different size from what we normally would have on that string, which will also imply reduced ability for us to carry all the demand that there is," Clerc said. The availability of additional capacity was low to begin with and, across the industry, carriers’ ability to bring in extra tonnage has been limited, he said, adding that at the same time, demand for container transport has remained strong. ASIA EXPORTERS' WOES TO CONTINUE For Asia, the impact of the ongoing Red Sea Crisis is more on exports rather than imports, Maersk said. This is primarily because Asian countries are major global exporters. China, Asia’s biggest economy and the second-biggest in the world, is also the largest exporter to many Asian countries. Routes between the Far East – which spans east southeast Asia – and Europe via the Suez Canal have been directly impacted, with disruptions in the Red Sea affecting most trade routes. "First, hubs in Asia are being impacted with congestion across key ports, causing delays and bottlenecks to ripple through the entire system," Maersk said. "Second, ocean networks have been reorganised with vessels being moved to different regions to better meet demand for capacity." This has led to a widening global impact that has affected regions that weren’t originally directly affected by the Red Sea disruption. Intra-Asia shipping routes are also facing equipment shortages, especially out of China, impacting the entire industry. Initially affecting long-haul routes, the scarcity now extends to shorter regional routes. This leaves carriers like Maersk with a difficult choice: prioritize returning empty containers to China or shipping full containers to other destinations, both options translate to increased costs and contributing to further supply chain disruptions. "We are also approaching typhoon season, which is expected to impact East China and South China, creating further risks of congestion," the shipping giant said. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman


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