India lockdown adds uncertainty for PVC exports

MOSCOW (MRC) -- This week India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown from Wednesday for 21 days in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the world's second-most populous country, which has 1.3 billion people. The lockdown applies to ports, which will slow imports of all kinds of goods, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), to a country that was dependent on PVC imports to meet demand before the pandemic gripped the globe, reported S&P Global.

Other countries and regions have similar lockdowns in place with exceptions for critical infrastructure, which includes chemical plants and ports. Those include Italy, which is among the global epicenters of the disease, and Spain. Germany was expected to issue similar stay-at-home orders as well, sources said.

In the US, several states, including hard-hit California and New York, have issued similar orders. Louisiana, home to major oil, natural gas and chemicals infrastructure, has an order in place, while Texas does not, although on Tuesday Houston and Harris County issued their own stay-at-home orders with similar critical infrastructure exemptions.

While construction is among those exemptions, US sources said coronavirus uncertainty was siphoning export demand and could do the same for domestic demand ahead of the peak summer season.

"Nobody wants to buy anything additional, especially for early April shipments," a market source said. "Some people are being cautious and canceling part of their orders, but not so much, both domestic and export."

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, contrary to seasonal factors, Russian producers of unmixed PVC have maintained a high level of capacity utilisation. Russia's overal PVC output totalled 91,700 tonnes in January 2020, up by 4% year on year. January production of unmixed PVC was 91,700 tonnes versus 87,760 tonnes in January 2019 and 81,400 tonnes in December 2019. Thus, despite relatively weak demand for resin from the domestic market, the average capacity utilisation exceeded 95% last month. Russia's overall PVC production reached 975,000 tonnes in 2019, compared to 958,600 tonnes a year earlier.
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Shintech started maintenance works at its PVC complex in Texas

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Shintech, a subsidiary of Shin-Etsu Chemical Co., has launched a turnaround at its 1.4 million mt/year polyvinyl chloride (PVC) complex, also in Texas, reported S&P Global with reference to sources familiar with the companies' operations.

Shintech's planned work on one of the trains at its Freeport complex was underway on Wednesday, 25 March, and expected to last through most of April, the source familiar with that company's operations said.

Shintech did not respond to a request for comment.

Previously, market sources had expected the turnaround to occur in March, as is typical, but the source said earlier this month it was planned for April. The planned work had prompted the company to stockpile PVC to meet domestic and contract demand, limiting export volume availability for March and April.

As MRC informed previously, in July 2018, Shintech began to construct a new integrated plant to PVC from salt. The new plant will be on industrial site developed by Shintech, located next to Shintech's existing plant in Plaquemine, Louisiana.

Shintech obtained permits to build a plant capable of producing 1.9 billion pounds (860 thousand tons) per year of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), the raw material of PVC, and 660 thousand tons per year of caustic soda, and has commenced construction of the first phase of the plan. The first phase will increase production capacity by 640 million pounds (290 thousand tons) of PVC per year and 270 thousand tons of caustic soda per year. The amount of this investment is expected to be $1.49 billion, which Shintech will fund by itself. Completion of the construction is targeted for the end of 2020. Annual production capacity after the completion of the first phase will be 7.14 billion pounds (3,240 thousand tons per year) of PVC and 1,570 thousand tons of caustic soda per year.

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, contrary to seasonal factors, Russian producers of unmixed PVC have maintained a high level of capacity utilisation. Russia's overal PVC output totalled 91,700 tonnes in January 2020, up by 4% year on year. January production of unmixed PVC was 91,700 tonnes versus 87,760 tonnes in January 2019 and 81,400 tonnes in December 2019. Thus, despite relatively weak demand for resin from the domestic market, the average capacity utilisation exceeded 95% last month. Russia's overall PVC production reached 975,000 tonnes in 2019, compared to 958,600 tonnes a year earlier.
MRC

Covestro signs EUR 225 million loan facility with EIB for R&D activities

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Covestro has agreed a loan with the European Investment Bank (EIB) for EUR 225 million, said the producer in its press release.

The loan will provide medium term funding to strengthen Covestro’s research and development (R&D) work in the areas of sustainability and circular economy within the European Union (EU).

Discussions with EIB started already in 2019 to identify R&D projects which would be compatible with the financing requirements of the EIB. These require that funding is applied to projects which meet high standards of technical, ecological and social responsibility.

"The core of our R&D activity is innovation" said Dr. Thomas Toepfer, CFO of Covestro. "This loan provides us with additional financial flexibility to push forward our strategic focus in the areas of sustainability and the circular economy."

EIB Vice-President Ambroise Fayolle, responsible for the bank's operations in Germany and innovation, said: "In times when Member States and EU institutions are putting in place multi-billion euro programmes in response to the crisis caused by COVID-19, it is also important to demonstrate that we are continuing our regular business in support of companies. I am therefore very pleased that we have just signed this loan with circular economy pioneer Covestro, as support for the climate and environment is among the EIB's top priorities."

In autumn 2019, Covestro published a global strategic program to establish the theme of circular economy throughout all areas of the company. The main principles are to improve recycling from plastic waste, alongside the development of innovative technical and production methods in the use of alternative raw materials.

The EIB loan provides a further commitment of Covestro to sustainability. It complements the recently renewed syndicated revolving credit facility of EUR2.5 billion, whose interest rate is linked to the company’s Environment, Social Governance (ESG) rating.

As MRC reported earlier, Covestro successfully closed the sale of its European polycarbonates (PC) sheets business to the Munich-based Serafin Group effective January 2, 2020. This includes key management and sales functions throughout Europe as well as production sites in Belgium and Italy.

According to MRC's DataScope report, overall imports of PC granules to Russia (excluding shipments from Belarus) grew in the first month of 2020 more than by 3 times year on year to 2,590 tonnes. Imports of material into the country were 740 tonnes in January 2019. December 2019 imports of material to Belarus reached 2,850 tonnes. Sabic Innovative Plastics and Covestro were the main import suppliers of PC granules. Both producers significantly increased their shipments in the first month of the year. Thus, imports of Sabic's material grew from 400 tonnes (5% of the total imports) in January 2019 to 1,590 tonnes (62% of the total imports). Covestro's shipments also rose significantly - to 770 tonnes from 580 tonnes (excluding Belarusian imports) a year earlier.

With 2019 sales of EUR 12.4 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, and electrical and electronics industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics, health and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employs approximately 17,200 people (calculated as full-time equivalents) at the end of 2019.
MRC

Mitsui Chemicals expands production capacity for nonwovens at Yokkaichi

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Mitsui Chemicals, Inc. has expanded its production facilities for meltblown nonwovens at its wholly owned subsidiary Sunrex Industry Co., Ltd., according to Kemicalinfo.

The move comes as an attempt to respond to the increasing demand for industrial-use meltblown nonwovens, and will increase the total production capacity of the Mitsui Chemicals Group for these materials by 50%.

The expanded facility is situated in Asakecho, Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture. Construction of the expansion began in August 2018 and business operations formally began in January 2020.

Mitsui Chemicals is positioning its nonwovens business as a growth market, making efforts here to supply high-quality nonwovens as industrial materials for a variety of applications. This includes use in car seats, masks and agricultural sheets.

With respect to SYNTEX MB nano products, marketing efforts are going toward use in filters and other applications that will take advantage of the meltblown nonwovens line’s superfine fibers, which are less than several hundred nanometers in diameter.

With this latest expansion of the plant, Mitsui Chemicals plans to further strengthen and expand its nonwoven business.

As MRC informed before, Mitsui Chemicals restarted its naphtha cracker in Japan on 11-12 May, 2019, following an unplanned outage. The cracker was shut in end-April, 2019 owing to power failure. Located at Chiba in Japan, the cracker has an ethylene capacity of 600,000 mt/year and propylene capacity of 331,000 mt/year.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, Russia's estimated PE consumption totalled 2,093,260 tonnes in 2019, up by 6% year on year. Shipments of all PE grades increased. PE shipments rose from both domestic producers and foreign suppliers. The estimated PP consumption in the Russian market was 1,260,400 tonnes in January-December 2019, up by 4% year on year. Supply of almost all grades of propylene polymers increased, except for statistical copolymers of propylene (PP random copolymers).

Mitsui Chemicals is a leading manufacturer and supplier of value added specialty chemicals, plastics and materials for the automotive, healthcare, packaging, agricultural, building, and semiconductor and electronics markets. Mitsui Chemicals is a Japanese Chemicals company, a part of the Mitsui conglomerate. The company has a turnover of around 15 billion USD and has business interests in Japan, Europe, China, Southeast Asia and the USA. The company mainly deals in performance materials, petro and basic chemicals and functional polymeric materials.
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Global oil refiners to deepen output cuts as coronavirus destroys demand

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Oil refiners from Texas to Thailand are bracing for deeper output cuts, bruised by an unprecedented demand shock as more countries lock down and restrict travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus, as per Hydrocarbonprocessing.

In Asia, home to over a third of the global refining capacity, India’s top refiner has slashed output by up to 25%-30% while operators in Japan, South Korea and Thailand - already running at reduced rates - are looking at more cuts even as they shut plants for maintenance.

In Europe, some refineries in Britain and Germany have scaled back production, with traders expecting many others to follow suit as demand for products falters. ExxonMobil’s French subsidiary said on Friday it would adapt production at its two refineries in the country to falling demand.

Several U.S. refineries have also cut back production, including plants in the Los Angeles area, a busy hub for air travel. Fuel demand is starting to sink in the United States, with overall products supplied falling by 2.1 million bpd in the most recent week, a near 10% drop.

Independent refiner Phillips 66 said its first-quarter refinery utilization rate was in the low-to-mid-80s range, with many of their refineries operating near minimum rates.

China, which restarted its economy after weeks of lockdown, is an outlier with its refining sector showing signs of recovery amid a decline in the number of new virus cases.

As MRC informed earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will not appeal a court ruling that would sharply reduce its use of waivers exempting refineries from the nation’s biofuels regulation, a big win for the Corn Lobby, according to a Reuters case docket review.

As MRC informed earlier, US Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa have asked the Trump administration not to appeal a court ruling that would slash the use of small refinery biofuel waivers, but have not heard back yet on its decision. President Donald Trump said the United States would take advantage of low oil prices and fill the nation’s emergency crude oil reserve, in a move aimed to help energy producers struggling from the price plunge.

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, Russia's estimated PE consumption totalled 215,390 tonnes in the first month of 2020, up by 23% year on year. Shipments of all grades of high density polyethylene (HDPE) and linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) increased due to higher capacity utilisation at ZapSibNeftekhim. At the same time, PP shipments to the Russian market were 127,240 tonnes in January 2020, up by 33% year on year. ZapSibNeftekhim's homopolymer PP accounted for the main increase in shipments.
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