Chemicals Output Drops in May European Chemical Output Drops After Eight–Months Growth Period

Editor: Dominik Stephan

Was it too good to last? Europe's chemical industry can not continue its growth path of the past eight months, as production drops slightly. The year–on–year–comparison still shows a moderate 1.8 growth, recent Cefic data indicate.

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The EU's chemicals output grew by 1.8 percent during first five months of 2014
The EU's chemicals output grew by 1.8 percent during first five months of 2014
(Picture: Cefic)

European chemicals output fell in May 2014 after eight consecutive months of expansion, according to the latest Cefic Chemicals Trends Report. Despite the May blip, output expanded by 1.8 percent in the first five months of 2014 on a year-on-year basis. EU chemicals prices were lower during the five month period, whilst EU chemical sales during the first four months of 2014 remained unchanged. The sector’s workforce grew in first quarter 2014, the second consecutive quarter of payroll expansion. EU chemicals net exports reached €14.8 billion for the first four months of 2014, but the surplus level narrowed as compared with the year prior.

Cefic Director General Hubert Mandery said: “Upticks in chemicals output and employment are welcome news, but signs point to the sector losing its footing in the global market. EU policy can help boost our competitiveness, especially by addressing the energy cost gap.”

Year-on-year Output up 1.8 percent Through May

Overall chemicals output rose by 1.8 per cent between January and May 2014 compared to the same period last year. The data from May, however, show EU chemicals output declining on the back of eight successive months of positive growth. All chemicals sub-sector output fell in May compared to the same month the year prior.

Petrochemicals output continued to slide, falling by 4.5 per cent during the first five months of 2014 compared to output in the same period the previous year. This decline was partially offset by a 4.6 per cent surge in output of specialty chemicals and 2.3 per cent growth in polymers. Basic inorganics grew by 2.0 per cent year-on-year. Consumer chemicals output increased by 1.6 per cent during the same period.

Year-on-year Chemical Prices down 2.2 per cent Through May

Prices continued to show marginal declines in May 2014, down by 0.8 per cent compared with May 2013. Petrochemicals and plastics during the month faced marginal price changes, 0.6 per cent for each. Consumer chemicals prices were unchanged in May 2014 compared to May 2013. Year-to-date figures show EU chemical producer prices in the first five months of 2014 slipping 2.2 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. Prices were down 0.1 per cent during the January-May 2014 period compared to the last five months of 2013. EU chemicals prices have been relatively stable in early 2014, appearing to follow a flat trend on a month-on-month basis.

January to April 2014 Sales Flat, 2.0 % Higher than the Pre-Crisis Level

Total EU chemicals sales during the first four months of 2014 were 0.4 per cent higher than the same period last year, just 2.0 per cent higher than the pre-crisis, full-year peak reached in 2008. April sales grew 1.3 per cent compared to the comparable month the year prior.

Employment Rose for the Second Consecutive Quarter

The level of chemical industry employment rose for six straight months from fourth quarter 2013 to first quarter 2014. The modest hiring uptick appears to confirm a break from the crisis-induced job losses that began in 2009. Country data show employment levels up in Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom since October 2013 through March 2014. Data show sector employment levelling off since first quarter 2010, whilst payroll levels in first quarter 2014 are nearly 10 per cent below the peak level reached in third quarter 2007. The sector directly employed 1.15 million people in 2013, 1.0 per cent less than in 2012.

Chemicals Trade Surplus Down by €1.5 Billion through April

The €14.8 billion chemicals net trade balance reached during the first four months of the year 2014 was led by a €4.0 billion positive trade balance with non-EU countries in Europe, which includes Russia. That surplus declined, however, by €1.0 billion in January-April 2014 compared with the same period in 2013. The EU chemicals trade surplus with Asia – excluding Japan and China – grew slightly, up €0.3 billion. The EU net chemicals trade surplus with China increased slightly from €0.39 billion to €0.58 billion. The United States further closed its trade deficit with the European Union, narrowing the gap by €0.6 billion to €2.0 billion during the four-month period.