Price and market trends: European ethanolamines industry squeezed

06 June 2014 10:07 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

Cheaper imports are undermining prices whilst feedstock ethylene prices increase

The rise in the European ethylene contract price for June presents a further problem for European ethanolamines manufacturers who face margin squeezes and further losses of global competitiveness, sources said on 28 May.

The €10/tonne increase in the June contract price for key raw material ethylene comes at a time when the industry is faced with weak demand that is preventing price increases.

“I see no chance of price increases. Naphtha only impacts Europe and Asia. Higher naphtha [is] not a justification for higher price increases - will give away competitive position,” said a buyer.

The industry is being faced with imports of ethanolamines from other regions with more favourable cost positions, which has led to a price differential between imports and local production.

“[There is a] disconnect between imports and local producers,” said one distributor. The distributor went on to explain: “It’s important to not make a big gap between import and local material. [The] gap is getting bigger and bigger as [the] ethylene gap increases.”

Some of the premium can be justified by quality, reliability and other issues.

“Have to calculate higher logistics costs,” said a producer. The producer went on to explain: “Buyers are interested in local long-term supplier. ... Can’t buy 100% of demand with all imports.”

“[Customers] will pay a certain premium for local product, can call and get product the day after - handling of road tank truck rather than container. ... Have to keep in mind, Asian material does not come in with regularity every month,” said the distributor.

“In terms of TEA [triethanolamine], there is a quality [difference], especially in the colour. ... Some [Asian producers] have quality issues. Transportation makes [the] issue worse,” said the producer. In addition, some producers see it as the duty of downstream purchasers to keep the European industry alive. “Customers need to support local industry,” said a second producer.

However, the buyer disputed this, saying: “If I buy 10% higher than the market, the board asks what is the strategy in buying this product. If pay 2-3% more, no problem. It’s not the buyers [not supporting European industry], it’s the markets.”

Quality and logistics concerns also seem to be fading with time. “[Customers] import material from Asia, some [with] hesitation but it got better over the years - Thai, Korean and Taiwan [product].”

The situation is likely to be exacerbated with new capacities being built, especially the Sadara plant in Jubail, Saudi Arabia.

By Rhian O'Connor