Article | June 6, 2022
IT FEELS LIKE several lifetimes ago. If you recall, way back in November-December 2019 Asian variable cost integrated naphtha-based polyethylene (PE) margins turned negative because of the increase in US capacity.
Then in January the following year, deep Asian and Middle East operating rate cuts returned some order to the market. Then, bang, as we all know, the pandemic arrived and turned everything on its head.
The pandemic has, in my view, accentuated trends that were already well underway. I believe this means that the supply-driven downturn that started in late 2019 will not return.Long before coronavirus upended everyone’s lives, PE demand was becoming increasingly divorced from GDP growth because of the shifting nature of end-use demand.
Booming internet sales was, I believe, a major factor behind the split between the growth of the overall economies in the developed world plus China and PE demand.The average product bought online is dropped 17 times because of the large number of people involved in the logistics chain, according to Forbes.
This had led to a surge in demand for protective packaging made not from PE and other polymers such as polypropylene, expandable polystyrene and PET films (I will look at their demand growth prospects in later posts).Despite sustainability pressures, the scale of demand for stuff bought online translated to a lot more consumption of virgin polymers.
Article | July 13, 2021
IN 2015, a global agreement was reached that 8m tonnes a year of plastic waste entering the oceans was unacceptable, according to this September 2020 article in The Conversation. This was the amount of plastic that was estimated to have ended up in the oceans in 2010.
“Several international platforms emerged to address the crisis, including Our Ocean, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the G7 Ocean Plastic Charter, among others,” continued the article.
But in 2020, an estimated 24m-34m tonnes of plastic waste was forecast to enter our lakes, rivers and oceans. This could reach as much as 90m tonnes in 2030 if the current trajectory continued, said The Conversation.
This is the type of information out there, free to view on the internet and accessible via a very quick Google search, representing a major challenges for our industry. I cannot of course verify the numbers. But they are out there.
Also out there is a May 2019 article by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which provided a good summary of research into what experts believed was the scale of the waste problem in the developing world.
Article | July 22, 2021
From novel process technologies to sustainable plastics— the chemical industry is scaling up its digital initiatives. This has opened new doors for organizations to explore opportunities to increase efficiency and streamline the process.
Admittedly, the chemical industry has been a little slower in implementing digital transformation. But COVID-19 has vastly increased the momentum of digitization among chemical plants.
According to a KPMG survey, 96% of industry CEOs saw digital transformation accelerate in their organizations, with 48 percent saying it advanced by a few years. In addition, according to a recent Manufacturing Leadership Council (MLC) survey, 82% of respondents agreed that the pandemic had "created a new sense of urgency" in driving investment in new technologies and digitalization.
Digital transformation solutions offer tremendous potential in the chemical sector. It can play a significant role in driving more value. So let's dig deeper and look at key technologies in bringing digital transformation to the chemical industry.
Chemical manufacturers cannot exist within their own four walls any longer. They recognize the importance of working with their customers and other businesses and organizations to conserve resources and protect the environment. Chemical companies may source raw materials from recyclers as part of a circular economy, which necessitates fool proof solutions to confirm their quality and availability. Circular economy consortiums may advocate for reducing environmental threats such as ocean plastics or exposure to hazardous chemicals, opening up new avenues for innovation.
Customers are constantly looking for new ways to reduce waste and protect their ecosystems. For example, farmers may benefit from solutions that can instantly analyze soil quality, weather, and crops to determine the best products and schedule for applying fertilizers, crop protectants, or new seeds. Using this data, they use only what they need, generate less waste, and maximize output.
Chemical firms are also embracing technology to achieve operational excellence. They've discovered the benefits of using machine learning andIoT technologies to automate standard back-end processes. Technologies such as these reduce the need for human intervention — and thus the possibility of human error. Blockchain technology can also significantly reduce counterfeit chemicals' use, which is especially important for chemical manufacturers who supply products to the pharmaceutical or agricultural industries. In addition, blockchain technology can enable track-and-trace processes that require less work and waste while protecting the enterprise's reputation.
Staying Sharp in the Dynamic Market
Staying agile in an uncertain M&A environment is a top priority for some businesses. For example, chemical firms must be able to quickly divest assets, adjust portfolios, and adapt operations in response to market changes. Technology can provide executives with the visibility into operations, shipments, and market conditions required to make critical decisions and remain agile.
The chemical industry is leveraging cloud-based storage systems to store and share confidential data anytime and anywhere. Additionally, data analytics solutions can analyze all the data effectively to provide valuable insights to the industry. This will help you make meaningful decisions in real-time.
Article | June 29, 2021
POLYMER BUYERS outside northeast (NEA) and southeast Asia (SEA) have a big opportunity to save millions of dollars on procurement costs during the rest of this year through purchasing more from the two regions.The opportunity has arisen because I believe that NEA and SEA polymer prices will remain very cheap relative to most of the world until at least the end of 2021.
NEA comprises China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Our definition of the SEA region is Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.NEA and SEA producers can also make a lot of money by constantly monitoring and acting on strong arbitrage opportunities in other regions.
As supply disruptions in the US look likely to continue, Europe and South & Central America seem particularly good opportunities for both buyers and producers.Before we discuss why I see NEA and SEA remaining cheap relative to most of the rest of the world until at least the end of the year, let us consider in more detail the size of the prize, starting with the resin buyers.