A cross-section of Wall Street experts played down the recent surge in oil prices, saying it is unlikely to harm the global recovery. One indicator that supports this claim is the oil load, or the cost of oil as a proportion of gross domestic product. According to Morgan Stanley, the oil load – which is an indicator of the impact of oil on growth – is expected to reach 2.8% of global GDP in 2021, significantly lower than the long-term average of 3.2%, assuming an average oil price of $ 75 per barrel this year.
But by no means does that mean that no one will be penalized by the trajectory of oil prices.
Some sectors of the economy are feeling the effects of high oil and natural gas prices strongly, as companies are forced to delay major projects or even shut down altogether.
You can chalk the American fertilizer maker CF Industries Holdings Inc. to the latter category. According to the wall street journal, CF Industries was forced to close two factories in the UK due to soaring natural gas prices. CF Industries, which uses hydrogen and nitrogen to make fertilizers and other products, said it had halted operations at its manufacturing complexes in the UK due to high natural gas prices. without any given timeline when production could resume.
UK businesses are bearing the brunt of high energy costs, with electricity prices nearly seven times higher than at the same time last year. Meanwhile, the electricity markets in Germany, France and the Netherlands are also significantly higher ahead of higher demand expected in winter.
Natural gas prices reached their highest levels since 2014, overtaking oil and many other commodities. Natural gas futures traded up 1.9% to $ 5.37 per million British thermal units (BTU) on Friday, their highest settlement price since February 2014. natural gas rose 121% year-to-date, while the biggest nat. gas reference, the US Natural Gas ETF, LP (NYSEARCA: UNG) is up 101% over the period. The sticker shock is even greater in other key natural gas markets around the world, with the price of the European regional gas benchmark, the one-month TTF contract, closing at a record high of $ 24.2 by metric Wednesday, more than 5 times a year ago. levels.
A recent Make UK survey found that around two-thirds of UK manufacturers say they feel the impact of energy prices, a Make UK survey, with energy-intensive manufacturing being the hardest hit.
Problem for petrochemicals
They are not alone.
After a brief recovery after seize the unexpected opportunity provided by the Covid-19 pandemic (which has proven to be a double-edged sword) and a forgiving government that has given it a ‘open permit to pollute, ‘ the tide seems to have turned against the petrochemical industry – again.
Not only have plastics manufacturers faced increasing competition as more refiners switch from gasoline and diesel to plastics, they are now seeing a sharp contraction in their profit margins thanks to rising costs of gasoline. Naphtha and LPG – the main raw materials of plastics.
Related: Energy Crisis In Europe Is Driving Up Natural Gas Prices Around The World
Petrochemicals – the building blocks of plastics – are processed from naphtha and LPG, or propane and butane. Companies whose production units are part of a larger refinery complex can exploit these locally produced raw materials as a by-product of petroleum distillation, but everyone must obtain raw materials from the market. free.
The result: Stand-alone factories without a fully integrated refining system and easy access to affordable raw materials increasingly face much higher production costs and may be forced to reduce cycles from for the third quarter of 2021.
To make the situation even more risky, Asia’s steam cracking capacity is expected to increase by around 20% in the current year, according to estimates by Armaan Ashraf, senior analyst at FGE.
Steam cracker plants convert naphtha and LPG into ethylene and propylene, the main building blocks of plastics. Meanwhile, a massive surge in natural gas prices as well as a huge surge in petrochemical capacity in Asia, led by china, doesn’t help matters either.
The shale boom has led to a glut of cheap oil and natural gas, essential commodities used in the manufacture of plastics both as raw materials and as fuel. The fossil fuel industry has pivoted strongly to the petrochemical sector as the second cash cow even as the world grew weary of its role in environmental degradation and investors began to give it a boost. wide place.
Indeed, the plastics industry was on the verge of an epic explosion – until the coronavirus crisis and the collapse in oil prices that followed dealt it a potential fatal blow.
Last year, Time magazine reported that integrated South African energy and chemicals giant Sasol Ltd opened a new plastic plant in Louisiana, one of seven such projects underway, while Shell was building a huge multibillion dollar ethane cracker plant in Pittsburgh with the capacity to produce 1.8 million tonnes of plastic each year.
According to American Board of Chemistry, hundreds of new plastic production plants and expansions were given the green light last year. Global plastic production is expected to increase by about a third over the next five years and triple over the next three decades.
But the energy and health crisis put an end to these optimistic plans and projections.
In July, the Thai company PTT Global Chemical announced that it indefinitely delay its plan to build a $ 10 billion ethane cracking plant in Ohio, citing the uncertainty amid the health crisis, while Shell said in March that he was abandoning his project in Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, China plans to invest $ 84 billion in plastic and energy in West Virginia have yet to materialize three years since the promise was made.
Kevin Swift, MD for Economics and Statistics at the American Chemistry Council, said Time that the price of oil and the economic crisis mean that spending is likely to be severely cut.
With Big Oil now shifting its focus from major investments to returning capital to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks; the ESG boom and the continued backlash against plastics in general, don’t expect these dazzling petrochemical predictions to come to fruition anytime soon.
By Alex Kimani for Oil Octobers
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