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Brazil’s Unigel gets green light from creditors for debt restructuring
SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Unigel has agreed a Brazilian reais (R) 3.9 billion ($791 million) debt restructuring with its creditors, which has saved the beleaguered styrenics, acrylics and fertilizer producer from filing for bankruptcy for the time being. The agreement includes raising a new $100 million credit line that will mature in 2027, and give its shareholders “economic benefits corresponding” to 50% of the company, it said. An intention to improve the company’s governance structure is also included, although Unigel did not disclose further details. The restructuring will consist of the issuance of new debt securities and participatory securities in exchange for the cancellation of current debts. One-third of Unigel’s creditors, those with earlier maturities, have agreed to the deal and will apply for 90-day protection to finalize it, which has been made possible under Brazil's financial laws. “The plan will allow the improvement of the company's capital structure, with an increase in its liquidity and a significant reduction in leverage, in order to guarantee the continuity of the business plan that was severely impacted by the crisis in the global petrochemical industry,” said Unigel’s CEO, Roberto Noronha. CFO André Gaia said the new funds will be partly directed to finalizing projects such as Unigel's sulphuric acid plant at Camacari in the state of Bahia. Construction has been on hold since 2023 when the company's financial position deteriorated. The plant is 80% complete, and when fully operational it should produce around 450,000 tonnes/year. REVIVALUnigel’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in 2023 on the back of high input costs – especially at its natural gas-intensive fertilizer operations – poor demand and low prices. It has not published a financial report since Q1 2023, something contemplated under Brazilian financial law for companies under stress. After a poor Q1, Fitch and S&P both lowered the company’s credit ratings several times and put Unigel’s debt obligations at the lowest level to indicate a high probability of default. However, “intense negotiations” with creditors that began in October, after Unigel failed to pay a coupon on one of its bonds, appeared to bear fruit in November when it reversed its decision to shut down the Bahia fertilizers plant. For that to take place, Unigel’s talks with its creditors were accompanied by talks with the government and its appointees to lead the state-owned energy major Petrobras, which supplies natural gas to Unigel. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has repeatedly said that Brazil needs a stronger fertilizer industry as is too dependent on imports to cover booming demand from its growing agricultural sector. The sector has made Brazil one of the world’s breadbaskets and accounts for around a quarter of the country's output. Although details have not been made public, in December, the two companies agreed a tolling agreement for Unigel’s fertilizers plants in Camacari and Laranjeiras, in the state of Sergipe. The two plants were leased from Petrobras in 2019. Capacity at the Bahia plant is 475,000 tonnes/year for ammonia and 475,000 tonnes/year for urea. The Laranjeiras facility has a capacity of 650,000 tonnes/year of urea, 450,000 tonnes/year of ammonia, and 320,000 tonnes/year of ammonium sulphate (AS). The Petrobras-Unigel agreement in December came just weeks after Unigel charged Petrobras for its “unbearable natural gas prices” when it explained to workers at the Camacari plant about redundancies resulting from its closure. As part of the talks with its creditors, Unigel divested its Mexican subsidiary which produces acrylic sheet Plastiglas for an undisclosed amount in December. With an expected improvement in chemicals and fertilizers prices and a helping hand from Petrobras and/or the Brazilian government, Unigel may have managed to avoid a bankruptcy which many had taken for granted a few months ago. At the annual meeting of the Latin American Petrochemical and Chemical Association (APLA), held in Sao Paulo in November, one petrochemicals source foresaw this week’s events. “Unigel has been in financial trouble many times before, and it always got through them. This time looks bad, but it may yet again save the day,” the source said. Focus article by Jonathan Lopez Thumbnail shows Brazilian money. Image by RHJPhtotos.
PODCAST: How Red Sea and Panama Canal troubles influence chemicals and LNG
BARCELONA (ICIS)–Chemicals and liquefied natural gas (LNG) players are switching from a global to a more regional approach to their markets as logistics challenges caused by the Red Sea attacks and Panama Canal drought persist. Red Sea disruption may not end until 2025 Some US chemical prices rising as Panama Canal restrictions continue Poor downstream demand caps increases Europe isocyanates and polyols react to logistics pressures Margins rising for European producers as purchasers switch to local sourcing LNG prices are falling despite logistics disruption LNG markets now becoming more regional LNG globally expected to be oversupplied by 2027-2028 as wave of new capacity starts up In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews Ed Cox, ICIS senior editor for LNG, Umberto Torresan, ICIS analyst for isocyanates and polyols, and Adam Yanelli, ICIS senior news reporter. Visit the ICIS Logistics: impact on chemical and energy markets Topic Page. 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.
PODCAST: Asian olefins to see support amid tighter supply, Panama congestion persists
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia's ethylene (C2) market saw supply tighten amid fewer volumes from the US in Q1 as a direct result of congestion at the Panama Canal. Over in the Asian propylene (C3) markets, while arbitrage flows remain curtailed by high freight rates, some emerging interest has been gleaned in the market as regards moving Asian material westwards. In this podcast, ICIS market editors Josh Quah and Julia Tan discuss Asia's olefins flows, with a forward view on the March market. C2 sees support from constrained deep-sea supply NE Asia C2 and C3 outlooks for March Impact of shipping congestion on olefin trade flows
LyondellBasell to lease California plant to produce recycled resins from waste
SAO PAULO (ICIS)–LyondellBasell has acquired a recycling plant in California from PreZero in which it plans to produce post-consumer recycled resins from plastic waste, the US chemicals major said on Tuesday. Financial details were not disclosed. The plant will be fully taken over by LyondellBasell in 2025. It will have a production capacity of 50 million pounds/year (25,000 tonnes/year) of recycled resins. “The transaction includes leasing the processing facility in Jurupa Valley, California … LYB will offer these recycled polymers under its CirculenRecover brand, part of the company's Circulen portfolio of products that enable the circular economy,” it added. LyondellBasell’s Executive Vice-President for the circular economy, Yvonne van der Laan, added the company was aiming to “build upon our existing experience in plastic recycling in Europe” to meet US’ growing demand for recycled products. In October 2023, LyondellBasell acquired a 25% stake in Cyclyx, a joint venture between energy major ExxonMobil and Agilyx. Additional reporting by Emily Friedman Thumbnail shows bales of recycled plastic. Image by Shutterstock.
INSIGHT: Chemical and energy intensive industries seek a ‘reboot’ of EU industrial policy
LONDON (ICIS)–Basic industry and trade unions understandably are increasingly and deeply concerned about Europe’s industrial landscape. The EU has an industrial policy, and it is enshrined in the ‘Green Deal’ and other objectives outlined by Brussels – often at very great length. But ambition from within the bloc to support industry has by no means been met with effective action either at the European or the member state level. Businesses were telling Brussels earlier this month that not only has a fragmented regulatory environment made it less attractive for companies to invest in the EU, but a lack of ambition for the Single Market has stifled business opportunity. On Tuesday (20 February) chemical industry leaders and trade union representatives met European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and Belgium’s Prime Minister, Alexander de Croo at the BASF site in Antwerp to press home their concerns and launch the ‘Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal”. The companies and organisations represented at the event support a European Industrial Deal to complement the Green Deal, more effectively putting industry at the forefront of the climate agenda. “There is an urgent need for clarity, predictability and confidence in Europe and its industrial policy,” they say. In the midst of Europe’s economic slump and energy crisis, the lack of industrial ambition within the EU’s framework policies has helped shift companies’ strategic thinking. It has put brakes on investment and forced multinationals to look elsewhere. Companies may not necessarily want to shift further from the European market but the reality is that they are. INEOS chairman and majority owner, Jim Ratcliffe, who was in Antwerp, said in a letter to von der Leyen that Europe is “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions”. The European chemicals sector struggles to compete with other markets, he added. Investment has been driven away by carbon taxes while the US has used a carrot and stick approach to improve its carbon footprint. There will be little left of the industry if the European government does not address the high energy costs, carbon taxes and lack of renewal that impacts the sector, Ratcliffe said. INEOS is investing heavily in its Project One cracker project in Antwerp but has faced environmental obstacles brought to court. Ratcliffe suggested that they demonstrate the flawed European approach. The EU has pushed its green, low carbon agenda hard and sought to carry the energy intensive industries with it but confusion and stasis on the energy front, including the inability to push harder and faster for local and regional renewable energy capabilities is a major headache for producers. To meet climate neutrality by 2050, and even earlier targets, investment in renewables will have to increase markedly. Permitting of energy projects will have to accelerate. Chemical companies and those in other energy-intensive sectors are expected to invest in lower-carbon manufacturing without the assurance that power will be available for their facilities. The declaration, signed by more than 70 business leaders wants member state governments and the next European Commission and Parliament to put an Industrial Deal at the core of the 2024-29 European strategic agenda. It makes suggestions on the main thrust of the deal. The signatories are looking for a “reboot” of industrial investment in Europe. “Basic industries in Europe are grappling with historical challenges: demand is declining, investments in the continent are stalling, production has dropped significantly, and sites are threatened," said BASF chief Martin Brudermuller. "We want to drive the transformation of our companies." Insight by Nigel Davis
Chemical firms back call for stronger business environment in EU
LONDON (ICIS)–The chief executives of BASF, INEOS, Covestro, Clariant and Dow Europe among others on Tuesday backed a new declaration calling for stronger European Commission prioritisation of business, calling for an industrial deal to be placed at the core of the new Parliament. Over 70 business leaders were present in Antwerp, Belgium, on Tuesday to present the proposals, known as The Antwerp Declaration for a European Industrial Deal, to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Belgium Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Attendees from the sector included INEOS’ Jim Ratcliffe, BASF’s Martin Brudermuller and TotalEnergies’ Patrick Pouyanne , as well as Markus Steilemann of Covestro, Matthias Zachert of LANXESS, Conrad Keijzer of Clariant and Antti Salminen of Kemira. Senior regional figures of large international producers including SABIC Europe vice president Mark Williams, Dow Europe president Neil Carr, DuPont Europe president Pierrick Le Gallo, ExxonMobil Petroleum and Chemical president Philippe Ducom were also present. Energy-intensive industries in Europe have struggled with the impact of high energy prices since the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war in early 2022, along with weak demand that has seen recessionary manufacturing sector conditions for most of the year. Demand growth has also remained tepid, with eurozone GDP expanding 0.1% in each of the first two quarters of the year, contracting 0.1% in July-August, and at a standstill in the closing months of 2023. “Basic industries in Europe are grappling with historical challenges: demand is declining, investments in the continent are stalling, production has dropped significantly, and sites are threatened. We want to drive the transformation of our companies, said Brudermuller. “For this, we urgently need decisive action to create the conditions for a stronger business case in Europe,” he added. The election of a new European Parliament is expected this year, and the declaration signatories called for a comprehensive industrial plan to be placed at the heart of EU strategy, including “actions to eliminate regulatory incoherence, conflicting objectives., unnecessary complexity in legislation and over reporting,” the declaration said. Reducing energy costs, stronger infrastructure investment, raw materials security and strengthening the single market are also among the calls made in the declaration, as well as stronger backing for clean technology projects through operating as well as capital expenditure support. The declaration also calls European policymakers to do more to encourage demand for net-zero and circular products through public procurement and EU-backed private buyer initiatives. Writing separately to von der Leyen, INEOS’ Jim Ratcliffe stated that Europe is “sleepwalking towards offshoring its industry, jobs, investments, and emissions”, and stating that the current EU framework is insufficient to renew the region’s ageing chemical base. Ratcliffe contrasted the EU Green Deal with the US Inflation Reduction Act, which he claims offers stronger incentives for green investment, and noting the legal issues and delays that INEOS has faced trying to build its Antwerp cracker. Tatiana Santos, head of chemicals at EU association the European Environmental Bureau, warned about future Commission policy backing “the prioritisation of polluters’ profits over public health and the environment.” Thumbnail photo: Ursula von der Leyen with numerous chemical industry chiefs at the industry summit taking place at BASF's Antwerp, Belgium, complex on 20 February. Source: Cefic
European Hydrogen Bank pilot auction demand "far exceeds" €800m budget – EC
The 132 bids received from 17 EEA countries was for a total 8.5GW of combined electrolyser capacity Oversubscription shows strength of European renewable-hydrogen growth Further details are due between April-May, with grant agreements in place by end of November LONDON (ICIS)–The European Commission said total funding applied for in the first European Hydrogen Bank pilot auction "far exceeds" the programme's €800m budget on 19 February. A second auction round is scheduled for the spring this year. The auctions only support renewable hydrogen production assets that adhere to the definition of renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs) within the Renewable Energy Directive approved by the European Parliament. A total of 132 bids combined demand for 8.5GW of electrolyser capacity in the first auction. This is equivalent to 8.8m tonnes of renewable hydrogen produced over the ten-year subsidy periods (880,000 tonnes/year), the Commission said. The bid-for volumes come close to covering 9% of Europe's 10m tonne/year renewable-hydrogen production goal set for the end of the decade. Bids were received from 17 of 30 countries within the European Economic Area (EEA). The Commission said that more details would follow in either April or May after an evaluation process, with the grant agreements signed by November this year at the latest. RECEIVED BIDS, GERMANY BOOST Each bid for capacity averages 64.4MW, at an annual average production rate of 6,667 tonnes/year for each bid. Given demand overshooting available funds, it is unlikely that all 132 bids will succeed. Germany announced late 2023 that it would be the first member state to participate in the EU's voluntary auctions-as-a-service scheme, however, while providing additional support. The government made an additional €350m available for projects in Germany, in case eligible bids for projects in Germany are excluded from the Innovation Fund due to budget limitations.
PODCAST: Phosphates, ammonia markets on standby due to low demand
LONDON (ICIS)–As the phosphoric acid settlement for Q1 is announced and India is eagerly awaiting further details on government subsidies, phosphates markets editor Chris Vlachopoulos and ammonia senior editor Sylvia Traganida discuss developments in their respective markets. They talk about demand, recent developments, and provide insight on the possible ways forward for both markets.
QatarEnergy, CP Chem start building $6bn Ras Laffan polymers complex
SINGAPORE (ICIS)–QatarEnergy and US’ Chevron Phillips Chemical (CP Chem) have started construction of their joint venture integrated polymers complex at Ras Laffan Industrial City in Qatar. The $6bn project will include an ethane cracker with capacity of 2.08m tonnes/year of ethylene, making it the largest ethane cracker in the Middle East and one of the largest globally, CP Chem said late on Monday. It will also include two high-density polyethylene (PE) derivative units with a total capacity of 1.68m tonnes/year. The two firms secured $4.4bn in financing for the Ras Laffan project in October last year. The PE units will use CP Chem’s MarTech loop slurry process to produce high-density PE (HDPE), which will be primarily meant for exports. The project is being developed by a 30:70 joint venture company of CP Chem and QatarEnergy. “This project advances CP Chem’s long-held strategy to expand its operations in regions where feedstock is reliable and abundant and will help meet the global demand for polyethylene products," CP Chem president and CEO Bruce Chinn said. Qatar holds the third-largest proven natural gas reserves in the world which positions it as a key player in the global energy market and a primary exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). CP Chem is providing project management services to oversee the engineering, procurement and construction of the facility. The Ras Laffan Petrochemical Complex is Qatar Energy’s largest investment in the local petrochemicals sector, the Qatari firm said in a separate statement issued on 19 February. The project will raise Qatar’s overall petrochemical production capacity to about 14m tonnes/year by the end of 2026, it said. “There is no doubt that this is an important landmark in QatarEnergy’s downstream expansion strategy as it will reinforce our integrated position as a global energy player and generate significant economic benefits for the country,” Qatar’s minister of state for energy affairs Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi said. CP Chem and QatarEnergy operate three joint ventures in Qatar, namely, Qatar Chemical Co, Qatar Chemical Company II, and Ras Laffan Olefins Co. In the US, the two companies, through their Golden Triangle Polymers joint venture, are also building a similar integrated polymers facility in Orange, Texas, which is expected to start up in 2026. Thumbnail image: Qatar minister of state for energy affairs Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi on 19 February 2024 (Source: QatarEnergy)
Americas top stories: weekly summary
HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 16 February. TiO2 prices to improve after Q1 – Tronox co-CEO Tronox expects titanium dioxide (TiO2) prices to reverse their downward trend and begin improving after the first quarter, John Romano, co-CEO of the US-based producer said in an update on Friday. INSIGHT: US chemicals may benefit from ultra-low priced natural gas through H1 '24 US chemical producers should continue to benefit from natural gas selling at historically low levels, a trend that has lowered feedstock costs just as their foreign competitors are paying more for oil-based material. Global oil demand growth losing momentum as post-pandemic rebound phase ends – IEA The momentum of crude oil demand growth is starting to slow as the post-pandemic rebound in consumption nears its conclusion, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday, despite arctic conditions in January tightening market balances. Avient sees end to destocking, raw material deflation to continue in H1 – execs While customers are managing inventories tightly as they monitor demand, Avient sees destocking coming to an end in key markets, with underlying demand starting to improve, the top executives of the US-based polymer materials company said on Wednesday. China customers expect no domestic demand growth in 2024 – Trinseo CEO Trinseo’s customers in China expect zero domestic demand growth in 2024 versus 2023 on persistent weakness in building and construction, as well as consumer durables, its CEO said. US Trinseo expects another net loss in Q1, may take more actions Trinseo expects another quarterly net loss in the first quarter after reporting one on Monday for its fourth-quarter results.
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