The IMF has now confirmed that the world economy has moved into the synchronised slowdown that I forecast here a year ago. Its analysis also confirms the importance of the issues highlighted then, including “rising trade barriers and increasing geopolitical tensions”, a sharp decline in manufacturing, contraction in the auto industry and structural forces such
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
US ethylene spot prices are tumbling as the major new shale gas expansions come on line, as the chart based on ICIS pricing data confirms: They began the year at $617/t, but have since more than halved to $270/t on Friday They are only around 10% higher than their all-time low of $240/t in September […]
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It is almost a year since Donald Trump became President. And whilst he has not followed through on many of his promises, he has indeed introduced the major policy changes that I began to discuss in September 2015, when I first suggested he could win the election and that the Republicans could control Congress: “In the […]
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The Financial Times kindly prints my letter this morning on pricing policies for polyethylene. Sir, Conspiracy theories are always good fun, and Robert Bateman’s views on the polyethylene market are no exception (Letters, December 29). But there is a much more prosaic explanation for the pricing structures he describes. The key issue is that until […]
It could be a very difficult H2 for anyone involved in the Asian oil and polymer markets. And given the global importance of these markets, everyone around the world will also feel the impact. The issue is that most business strategies have been based on 2 increasingly unlikely assumptions: Companies all assumed that oil […]
I spent most of last week in New York and Boston, meeting with major investors. One key topic on all their agendas was the major downturn underway in the global mining industry. The connection with my visit was that some have already begun to worry that the planned US ethylene expansions may lead to a […]
China is the world’s largest polyethylene market. One-third of the way through the year, it is therefore interesting to analyse the ratio of its own production versus imports, and look at relative import market shares. The chart shows annual data since 2005, with 2015 data to April, based on trade data from Global Trade Information […]
Volatility creates uncertainty. And uncertainty can easily lead to paralysis, if a company hasn’t planned ahead for the range of potential scenarios that might develop. This is the risk highlighted in my usual analysis of quarterly results. A key warning sign is the divide that has developed recently in performance in different regions and industry sectors, […]
Simple stories aren’t always true. That’s certainly the case with the fiction that the fall in the number of US oil drilling rigs will soon reduce US oil production. Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson recently reminded us of this critical point: “Clearly a significant decline in rig activity did not diminish the continued growth of […]
Who would have believed, a few years ago, that European cracker operators would see an operating rate of 84% as something to celebrate? It would have been thought a disaster prior to 2008, when rates typically ranged around 90%. But whilst nobody is flying flags, last year was the best year since 2007. And as […]
The above chart is a major wake-up call for anyone who still believes that China will continue to import ever-increasing volumes of major commodities such as polyethylene (PE). It suggests demand and import growth are now at much lower levels than in the past, and may even have begun to peak. The chart shows cumulative volumes in […]
China’s property bubble is collapsing, with average house prices now down 10% from their peak. As agents Knight Frank note, “The developers have two to five years of stock to clear. So until that has been cleared, prices aren’t going up any time soon” We are also seeing more bankruptcies amongst property developers. These began a […]
Data over the past month continues to confirm my fears that the US housing recovery is going into reverse. The argument was summed up yesterday by S&P’s chairman, when reporting Case/Shiller housing price data for December: “The housing recovery is faltering. While prices and sales of existing homes are close to normal, construction and new home […]
Welcome to the New Normal. The Great Unwinding of policymaker stimulus has led global oil prices to drop back to $50/bbl. Meanwhile China, the major source of demand growth since 2009, is now seeing a major slowdown. And, of course, this is still only the beginning of the great transformation that is now underway as we enter […]
A return to lower oil prices is good news for the global economy. But it is bad news for all those who have invested in expanding ethylene production on the assumption that US gas prices would maintain the temporary advantage of recent years. As the chart shows: Oil (blue line) has around 6x the energy […]
It feels like the end of an era, as we survey the usual quarterly update of chemical company results. For several years, there have been 3 or 4 key dimensions: US companies have been very profitable due to shale gas Asian companies have done well with volume, due to Chinese demand Middle Eastern companies have done well due to […]
We all remember the Hans Christian Andersen story about the Emperor with no clothes. His subjects were told that only those who were stupid or incompetent would be unable to see his wonderful new suit. Of course, nobody wanted to appear stupid or incompetent. So when the Emperor paraded in his new clothes, nobody wanted to tell him the obvious. It was left to a child […]
The US PVC industry is hitting new problems, to add to the post-2006 collapse of the US housing market. Yet only 10 years ago, it was riding high. Demand into housing (the main outlet) was at record levels thanks to subprime lending, and PVC production had just hit a record 7.3 million tonnes. Even after the financial Crisis, global […]
“Not with a bang but with a whimper”. The blog’s 6-monthly webinar for the American Chemical Society (ACS) takes place next Thursday, 5 June, at 14.00 Eastern Summer Time. And once again, the ACS has kindly arranged for blog readers to register for it free of charge. As feared in last December’s Year-end Review, the promised economic […]
One good thing may come out of the current excitement over the US ethylene expansions being discussed on the basis of shale gas developments. Boards may decide to look at seriously at the way yesterday’s ‘demographic dividend’ has now become today’s ‘demographic deficit’. That would be a major step forward for the US and the […]
China’s growth has been the main support for the global economy since the Crisis began in Q4 2008. The slide above captures the extent of this in polyethylene (PE), one of the world’s largest chemical markets, based on data from China’s chemical association and Global Trade Information Services: The total market grew 11% in the 3 […]
We all live in hope. That seems to be the underlying message from the blog’s quarterly survey of company results. Nothing has changed since last quarter or indeed Q2, when BASF noted that “achieving our earnings target is significantly more challenging today than we had expected”. Yet this latest quarter was, of course, supposed to be […]
A prominent “activist” fund in New York has told Dow Chemical to spin off its performance plastics, performance materials and feedstocks-and-energy units. The news led the blog to imagine a fictional scene in the offices of Activists-R-Us fund last Tuesday morning, as the news came through. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental, as they say in movies. […]
Will the US be able to sell all its planned new petchem volumes? That is the 3rd topic in the blog’s series about critical areas where we all think we know what’s happening, but may end up being surprised. We all know that the US now has a major feedstock advantage versus Europe, Asia and Latin America due […]
The Financial Times has carried an excellent analysis this week of the key shale gas issues facing the European chemical industry. It includes comments from a number of CEOs, as well as from the blog. Its key points are as follows: THE STRATEGIC DILEMMA “European petrochemical makers risk being squeezed between low-cost producers in the Middle East […]
The above chart paints a depressing picture for anyone thinking it should be easy to make money via a major US ethylene investment based on cheap ethane from shale gas. It shows 2012 ethylene production (red column) was still below …
The casual observer might be forgiven for imagining that the US ethylene industry should be seeing its biggest export boom of recent decades. Its ethane feedstock cost is back at its normal 25c-30c/gal range of a decade ago, whilst its …
H1 trade date from leading provider Global Trade Information Services highlights a surprisingly weak overall export performance by US polyethylene (PE) producers. As the chart shows:…
Net export volumes (blue column) have recovered from the 2012 slowdown (green), but are
China’s polyethylene (PE) demand has seen encouraging signs of growth in H1. As the chart above shows (based on Global Trade Information Services data): Total demand is up 13% in 2013 (red column) versus 2011 (blue) Domestic production is up 7%, whilst imports are up 18% The Middle East is the biggest winner, with its sales […]
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink. That seems to be the critical message from the current state of US PVC export demand. This should be booming, based on the cost advantage provided by …
The blog is constantly astonished by the lack of interest in many companies in the vital field of trade data. No business today, no matter how large and well-connected, can possibly hope to understand market developments without constant analysis of t…
A blog reader has kindly forwarded an important new study ‘Golden rules for a Golden Age of Gas’, produced by the International Energy Agency (IEA). It sets out what needs to be done to maintain public confidence in ‘fracking’ and the other techniques…
Unilever CEO Paul Polman suggests we are living in a VUCA world, as we discuss in chapter 11 of Boom, Gloom and the New Normal. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity make planning for the future more difficult than for a generation.
The blog’s latest post for the new Financial Times FT Data blog has just been published, and is reprinted below. Please click here for the FT site.
Shale gas developments in the US have sparked a wave of euphoria about the opportunity for a renaissan…
As promised, the blog looks today at the performance of US polyethylene (PE) exporters in Brazil.
It was the fastest-growing of the major markets in 2011, as the wider economy benefitted from China’s demand. Since 2008, Brazil’s PE net imports have…
US petchem producers are planning a major boost to ethylene capacity. They now have the 2nd cheapest feedstock in the world, due to ethane from shale gas. The only question is, where will they sell their product?
Ethylene, of course, is very expensi…