plastics

Look for Winners and Losers in 2021

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. Lenin’s famous insight was highly relevant to 2020. It was full of such weeks as the coronavirus pandemic became a catalyst for major paradigm shifts in the economy. Of course, some sceptics still expect a quick V-shaped return to ‘business as usual’,

Chemical industry has key role in helping to create a more sustainable world

The chemical industry has a critical role to play in enabling the world to “build back better” after the pandemic. That is the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s Chemical and Advanced Materials Industry Action Group, for which I had the privilege of acting as an Expert Adviser. Its conclusions are as follows: “Where next?

Local supply chains replace global trade as world starts to “do more with less”

Something quite dramatic is happening in the global economy.  Of course, Wall Street analysts still maintain that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be over by the summer.  What else can they say, given their income mostly depends on persuading the public to buy shares? But anyone on Main Street knows that it will

Portugal shows the way to climate neutrality by 2050

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do”. The Irish proverb’s logic shows us the way forward on the greatest challenge that we face today, of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. As the President of the European Petrochemical Association, Marc Schuller, highlighted last month when issuing a ‘call to action’: “The

Europe’s auto sector suffers as Dieselgate and China’s downturn hit sales

Trade wars, Dieselgate and recession risk are having a major impact on the European auto industry, as I describe in my new video interview with ICIS Chemical Business deputy editor, Will Beacham. One key pressure point is created by the downturn in China’s auto industry. As the chart shows, it has been a fabulous growth

There’s a great future for the European plastics industry in recycled plastic

Europe’s plastics industry is under major threat from the growing legislative and consumer backlash against plastic packaging. As with the global industry, its licence to operate is increasingly challenged by images of plastic rubbish polluting the world’s oceans, alongside photos of baby fish dying because their parents mistakenly fed them plastic instead of food. EU

Stormy weather ahead for chemicals

Four serious challenges are on the horizon for the global petrochemical industry as I describe in my latest analysis for ICIS Chemical Business and in a podcast interview with Will Beacham of ICIS. The first is the growing risk of recession, with key markets such as autos, electronics and housing all showing signs of major

IKEA heads into the circular world with furniture subscription trial

“Once upon a time, Granny and Grandad used to go to a large shop on the motorway to buy their furniture. They used to stagger around carrying Billy bookshelves and Dombas wardrobes, before treating themselves to Swedish meatballs in the canteen. And then Grandad would spend the rest of the weekend trying to assemble the

Rising interest rates, volatile exchange rates, high oil prices and plastic waste challenge aromatics industry

Fears are rising about the risks of recession, as I discuss in a new one-page summary of the key issues facing the aromatics industry, ‘What does the future hold for Aromatics?‘.  Please click here to download it. These issues will also be key topics at next month’s 17th World Aromatics and Derivatives Conference, jointly organised with ICIS, […]

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Plastics recycling paradigm shift will create Winners and Losers

My new analysis for iCIS Chemical Business highlights the paradigm shift now underway in the plastics industry. A paradigm shift is underway in the plastics industry as public concern mounts over the impact of plastic waste on the oceans and the environment. For 30 years, plastics producers have primarily focused upstream on securing cost-competitive feedstock supply. […]

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Saudi oil policy risks creating perfect storm for Aramco flotation

Good business strategies generally create good investments over the longer term. And so Aramco needs to ensure it has the best possible strategies, if it wants to maximise the outcome from its planned $2tn flotation. Unfortunately, the current oil price strategy seems more likely to damage its valuation, by being based on 3 questionable assumptions: Oil […]

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2018 will see Winners and Losers appear in plastics markets

Two major challenges face petrochemical and polymer producers and consumers in 2018: The likely disruption created by the arrival of the ethylene/polyethylene expansions in the US The growth of the circular economy and the need to dramatically increase recycling capacity My new interview with Will Beacham, deputy editor of ICIS Chemical Business, focuses on both […]

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Goodbye to “business as usual” model for plastics

Polymer markets face two major challenges in coming months. The most immediate is the arrival of the major US shale gas-based ethylene and polyethylene expansions. The longer-term, but equally critical challenge, comes from growing public concern over plastic waste, particularly in the ocean. The EU has set out its vision for a new plastics economy, where: “All plastic packaging is reusable or […]

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Hurricane Harvey will turbocharge move to the circular economy

300,000 homes and half a million cars have been destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.  And in terms of business, it is often forgotten that Houston is home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other metro area than New York.  The damage will take years to repair, as families have to regroup and re-establish their lives […]

Plastics demand is peaking as circular economy arrives

The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.  Similarly, coal is being left in the ground because we no longer need it any more.  And the same is happening to oil, as Saudi Arabia recognised last year in its Vision 2030: “Within 20 years, we will be an economy that doesn’t depend mainly […]

Supply chains to shift from global to local

We are living in an ever more uncertain world, where “business as usual” is becoming the least likely option for the future. Companies and investors need to adapt quickly to this new normal environment, if they want to maintain revenue and profit growth. One example comes from the American company 3M, which has become legendary […]

European petrochemical output still below 2004 – 2007 levels

The financial crisis began a decade ago, yet production of the key “building block products” for the European petrochemical industry has still not recovered to its pre-Crisis peak, as the chart shows (based on new APPE data):   Combined production of ethylene, propylene and butadiene (olefins) peaked at 39.7 million tonnes in 2007   A […]

Trump, Xi have 100 days to avert US-China trade war

Last week’s summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping was initially overshadowed by Friday’s news of US missile strikes on Syria.  But from the details since released, it is clear the summit will likely have far-reaching impact on the global economy.  As US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross revealed afterwards, the […]

4.5 million tonnes of new US polyethylene exports on front-line as War of Words hits US-China trade

“There isn’t anybody who knows what is going to happen in the next 12 months. We’ve never been here before. Things are out of control. I have never seen a situation like it.” This comment last month from former UK Finance Minister, Ken Clarke, aptly summarises the uncertainty facing the global economy. As I note in a new analysis, major policy changes are […]

Midway Atoll becomes “plastic island” due to our throwaway society

Plastics have made an enormous contribution to improving our quality of life over the past 75 years.  Polyethylene (discovered in 1933), polypropylene, PVC, polystyrene, PET and many others have made our lives safer, and easier:   Plastic pipes have removed the risk of lead poisoning from our water, and helped to reduce water lost in […]

Sustainability replaces globalisation as key driver for economy

2 weeks ago, India ratified the COP 21 Agreement.  This means the Agreement enters into force on 4 November, as 81 countries, responsible for more than 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, have now agreed to reduce emissions in line with the decisions made in Paris last December.  And last week saw another landmark Agreement, with 150 countries agreeing […]

The digital vortex is coming to a business near you

The average smartphone now has “more computing power than the computers used during the Apollo era to put the first men on the moon.“ The question facing all of us, is “How will this power be used to disrupt our current business? We can already see some of the early impacts from the transformation taking place: □  Most […]

US polypropylene imports rise as China aims for self-sufficiency

Difficult times lie ahead for global polymer markets, as I note in a new analysis for ICIS Chemical Business. In the short-term it is clear that downstream users have, once again, been busy building stock in recent weeks as the oil price rose. But now, finance directors are getting calls from their bankers asking about […]

Plastics lose market share to lightweight steel in US sutos

Plastics consumption in US autos is going down, not up.  Steelmakers and glass manufacturers have recaptured ground lost in the years to 2009, and are capturing new sales as auto standards demand lighter-weight cars.  And yet, if you had asked polymer suppliers about future demand in the US auto market a few years ago, they […]

What If 3D Printing Was 100x Faster? | TED Talks

Major change is underway in manufacturing and supply chains.  China’s slowdown has exposed the myth that its demand would support ever-increasing production of commodities such as metals and oil.  As the Financial Times reported yesterday: “Back in the summer, Glencore’s combative chief executive Ivan Glasenberg led a chorus of mining executives in blaming speculative funds for driving […]

China’s auto slowdown to push spare capacity into export markets

Where would the world’s auto industry, and its suppliers, have been without China in recent years?  And how will they manage now China’s demand for new cars is slowing fast?  These are the question troubling companies and investors as Q3 sales are analysed. The chart above shows the recent history of sales in the Top […]

Supply chain revolution is on the way

Imagine a world where your local garage uses 3D printing to provide you with a new car bumper. You have had a bump in a car park, and just want to get it fixed. Unlike today, there’ll be no more waiting for the part to arrive. The garage will simply download the design from the […]

Europe can win despite age trends

We all know that Europe has an ageing population.  Germany and Italy, for example, have median ages of 45 years.  And fertility rates have been below replacement levels for 45 years, so the relative number of higher-spending young people is reducing.  Instead, there are more and more older people, as life expectancy at age 65 […]

Saudi lets ‘market decide’ on oil prices to maximise local jobs

I was kindly invited last week to give a keynote address at the annual ME-TECH conference in Dubai.  Naturally, there was intense interest in my argument that oil prices were most unlikely to recover to the $100/bbl level. Instead, I suggested they would likely return to their long-term historical average of $33/bbl (in $2014).  And I argued that this would be good news […]

Turkish plastics markets see imports fall for first time since 2008

Turkey is the blog’s “go-to” market when it wants to confirm trends in global markets.  The reason is that Turkey has a very successful downstream industry, but has failed to invest in upstream capacity.  This means it is essentially an opportunistic market from a sellers’ viewpoint. During good times, exporters will only divert product from […]

Global chemical operating rates remain well below SuperCycle levels

The latest American Chemistry Council report on global production shows output was up 3% versus September 2012, and just 18% above average 2007 levels.  There was a mixed picture in the main Regions: Asia-Pacific was strongest, up 5.9%, with Japan accelerating as the weak yen helped its exports The Middle East continued to slow, and was up […]

Canada’s ‘waste plastics’ worth $792m/year as fuel

Canada’s plastics industry has published important new research about the potential value of waste plastic.

At the moment, any plastic not recycled goes to landfill – which is both costly and negative for the environment. Now their new research sho…