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Conference report: Middle East capacity will change plastics landscape

Houston—Garnering approximately 950 in preregistration and topping 1000 attendees with walk ups, petrochemical analyst firm, Chemical Market Associates Inc. (CMAI; Houston) concluded the 23rd edition of its World Petrochemical Conference last week in Houston, drawing a diverse mix of geographic origins and business affiliations, including oil/gas firms, chemical companies, retailers, OEMs, and the financial industry. The large crowd could be a product of the relative health of petrochemicals in North America, with some products enjoying strong margins and the industry as a whole strengthening its export position in recent years.
Another, perhaps more likely explanation is the volatility in the sector and the rapid pace of change, which will accelerate in coming years with massive amounts of capacity set to come online in the Middle East and Asia. “The new Middle East capacity will forever alter trade patterns we’ve seen for years,” explained Nick Vafiadis, business director for polyolefins at CMAI, with Europe likely to be buried in plastics imported from the Mideast, and some of it threatening North America’s position as a net exporter.
CMAI President Greg Adams told the crowd that the massive capacity additions are an exaggerated version of the boom/bust cycle that has been seen in chemicals in the past, but savvy companies can exploit the tumult. “Chemicals are still a cyclical business,” Adams said, “but cyclical industries are ones that present a lot of opportunities to leverage that [nature], depending on where we are in that cycle,” adding that producers and consumer of chemicals should “position their business for the next up turn.”
In terms of the record crowd, Adams said that 54% of attendees came from North America, with 18% from Europe, and 14% from Asia/India. Fully 68% of attendees were either producers or consumers of petrochemicals, with the next largest contingent, 18%, coming from the financial community. Adams said the 2009 event will be held at the same location, the Hilton Americas Hotel in downtown Houston, on nearly the same dates: March 24-26. In the near term, CMAI will have an April 27-29 conference and workshop entitled “The Middle East Influence on Global Energy and Petrochemical Markets” in Manama, Bahrain at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa. Approximately a month later, CMAI will host a petrochemical industry fundamentals and polyolefins workshop on May 26 in Singapore at the Raffles City Convention Centre.
Downstream, CMAI will host the fifth edition of its Plastics Processors Conference and Polyolefins workshop on Sept. 29-30 at the Chicago Marriott Downtown and, for the first time ever, it will hold a European version of the event, with that slated for Nov. 5-6 at the InterContinental Hotel in Düsseldorf, Germany. Later this month, CMAI will take part in Chinaplas (April 17-20, Shanghai New International Expo Center; Stand W1N39), offering a half-day market overview during the show.—[email protected]
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