EU chemicals production stays stagnant in 2013

European chemicals sector output was stagnant in 2013, according to the latest Chemical Trends Report, released on Monday from industry body Cefic. 

Zero growth in 2013 meant the sector remained 6.4% below the pre-crisis, full-year peak level reached in 2007. The year-end figure was slightly better than the Cefic forecast given last September, which predicted a slight contraction of 0.5% for the year. 

The latest monthly data showed output expanding 2.0% in December year on year, the fourth consecutive month of above-zero growth. A stronger second half 2013 helped pull the sector out of a recession.

EU chemicals exports helped to drive sector activity, with the net trade surplus reaching €45.8 billion through November 2013. The surplus grew by €779 million during the January-November 2013 period compared with the same period the year prior. 

Meanwhile, EU chemicals prices fell 2.7% in December 2013 compared to December 2012. Year-on-year total sales were 3.3% lower for the first 11 months of 2013.

Sector confidence decreased slightly in January 2014, after increasing for three consecutive months. Capacity utilization saw a minor drop from 79.1% in the third quarter of 2013 to 78.8% in the fourth.

Basic inorganics offset petrochemicals production drop 

Petrochemicals output continued to contract in December, down by 7.1% compared with December 2012. The steep drop was partially offset by strong growth in basic inorganics, up 8.8% in December year-on-year.

Polymers output expanded by 4.0% while consumer chemicals grew by 0.8%. Specialty chemicals expanded by 1.6% during the same period.

December 2013 chemical prices lower than 2012 levels  

EU chemical producer prices in December fell 2.7% compared to the same month the year prior. Producer prices for the whole year of 2013 were 1.0% lower than the year 2012. January-December producer prices remained 11.6% higher than the pre-crisis, full-year peak level reached in 2008.

November chemicals sales fall, remain slightly above pre-crisis levels

EU chemicals sales in November dropped 2.0% compared with the same month the previous year. Sales for the first eleven months of 2013 were 3.3% less than during the same period in 2012. EU chemicals sales during the first eleven months of 2013 were 1.1% higher than the full-year peak level reached in 2008 before the crisis.

Net trade surplus widens in November

The EU chemicals net trade surplus continued to grow, reaching yet another record level. The surplus stood at €45.8 billion during the first 11 months of the year. The surplus was led by a €14.4 billion positive trade balance with non-EU countries in Europe, including Russia – up €0.5 billion from the same period in 2012. 

The January-to-November 2013 trade surplus with Asia – excluding Japan and China – reached €6.7 billion, up €2.2 billion on the same period the year prior. Meanwhile, the EU net chemicals trade surplus with China decreased slightly from €1.33 billion in January-November 2012 to €1.27 billion during the comparable period in 2013. 

The US continued to close the trade deficit gap with the European Union, narrowing during the 11-month period by €2.1 billion to €6.0 billion.

Confidence fell slightly in January 

The EU chemical industry confidence indicator (CCI), generated by Cefic, was lower in January 2014 compared with December 2013. 

Companies’ output expectations for the months ahead had an impact on the lower reading. Overall order books for the coming months registered also a downturn in January 2014 compared to December 2013. 

The confidence reading for the sector in January was above the long-term average, measured from 2005 to 2012, for the fifth consecutive month. 

Capacity utilization in the EU chemical industry decreased slightly, from 79.1% in the third quarter of 2013 to 78.8% in the fourth. But it remains 6.6% below the post-crisis peak level recorded in the second quarter of 2011.

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