Taking a closer look at the markets

2021 has been a year of mixed fortunes; starting with numerous logistical and weather-related challenges before emerging into a period of phenomenally strong demand which brought some renewed optimism for many, but the year is ending with mis-firing supply chains and a significant spike in feedstock costs that are tempering demand.

Demand – post pandemic resurgence

Despite the fact that COVID is still highly prevalent across the world, the emergence of economies from the lockdowns of 2020 and early 2021, and the feeling of hope and optimism that accompanied this, resulted in a huge surge in demand for methacrylate products through most of this year.

Sanitary-ware acrylic sheet, solid surface products, adhesives and surface coatings are all heavily utilised in construction activities and in particular for home renovation, and have been in high demand all year, right across the region. And demand for acrylic-based impact modifiers and processing-aids for PVC profiles have had a strong pull for similar reasons.

However, demand from the automotive sector for PMMA (moulding compounds) and MMA & MAA (coatings) has been erratic over the last 12 months due to the stop-start nature of the industry and is currently suffering from the lack of semi-conductors enabling vehicles to be completed. This sector will inevitably come back strongly when this problem is resolved.

2020 was an abnormal year in terms of demand (pandemic lockdowns driving sales down, but demand for COVID protection screens significantly mitigating this) but despite a slower final quarter, it is estimated that MMA demand in the EMEA region in 2021 will be 3% higher than the previous year. And the outlook that is being received from customers for 2022 is also positive on the expectation that the cost of gas and derivatives will fall dramatically within a few months of the start of the year.

Supply side – challenges everywhere

Like the chemical industry in general, methacrylates manufacturers globally had more than their normal share of challenges in 2021, in addition to having to work continuously under COVID-safe conditions.

Winter Storm Uri hit the US Gulf in February impacting the chemical industry and the majority of the methacrylates assets in the US taking about 4 months to work through the issues that this caused and the ramifications globally.

It has not been a straightforward year for availability of raw materials for MMA and PMMA manufacture; this applies to both major feedstocks and minor additives, and where mis-matches of supply and demand and some prominent Force Majeures have had major impact on availability and caused fluctuations in pricing.

Logistics has continued to be a major challenge for the last 12 months and is forecast to continue well into next year. Moving goods from Asia has been particularly difficult, and at times prohibitively expensive. And locally, the lack of tanker drivers and capacity limitations on rail and at times at ports had made the movement of our products much more challenging than normal. We continue to work hard on all aspects to maintain our high level of service.

The most recent challenge to the methacrylate industry has come from the sudden and extreme rise in natural gas prices (and derivatives) in Europe and in the UK during September & October, which has had a serious impact on the manufacturing cost.

So, much for the industry to contend with as 2021 draws to a close. And at Mitsubishi Chemical Methacrylates we are preparing for the outage next quarter to enable the planned asset investments at our Cassel site in the UK.

Finally, a continued thank you to our customers for working together through these challenges. And MCM will continue to use its full global resources to support our customers in the EMEA region. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy, and that we can all enjoy a less “up and down” year in 2022.

Can you provide a view of the current MMA supply situation in your region?

Asian demand, which had been declining in 2020, improved significantly in H1 2021.
After June, although lockdowns were enforced in some Asian countries due to the Delta variant epidemic and there were concerns about the impact of semiconductor chip shortages, supply in Asia remained tight until the beginning of autumn. This was due to demand in some sectors such as Industrial Coatings remaining strong, and exports from Asia to Europe and the United States continued.

In September, MMA suppliers in China were forced to make operational adjustments in response to the government’s dual-control policy on energy consumption, but demand also declined. In addition, the soaring prices of raw materials, problems in global logistics, the shortage of semiconductor chips and real estate issues in China have made the future uncertain. As a result, market sentiment has deteriorated with customers in a ‘wait-and-see’ mood, and the supply/demand balance has softened.

Although there are many uncertainties, we expect that demand will recover at some point in the near future. However, the impact of the new variant of COVID-19 is another concern.

Which sectors and what dynamics are driving methacrylate demand in your region?

Demand for protective shields (sneeze guards) slowed down in 2021, but it remains stable. Cast sheet demand for sound barriers is firm as construction of intercity railroads is expected to expand in China.
Demand for artificial marble is expected to grow in the markets for hospitals, public places, toilets, etc., taking advantage of its antibacterial properties.

As a measure for low VOCs, the change to water-borne products in industrial coatings will continue and MMA demand will increase.

India’s economy will grow rapidly in 2021 and demand will increase significantly, especially for building paints. We expect that it will continue to grow significantly in 2022.

How have the global logistics issues impacted import and export of materials in your region, and what is your view for 2022?

In terms of the difficulty of booking, almost all exports from Asia or from Asia to Europe and the United States were affected.

In terms of the cost increasing, the impact for cast sheet – which has had a large increase in transportation costs – is especially significant.

This issue is not expected to improve significantly in 2022 and the impact will continue.
In order to reduce the impact of these problems, we need to switch from ISO tanks to bulk as much as possible.

What are your views on the new MMA capacity coming to the market in the coming 1-2 years?

In 2021 there was new capacity in China, and Qixiang 2 started in March. However, other plans are delayed due to the influence of the dual-control policy.

Partially the expansion in China led to an increase in exports, mainly to India.
From the end of the year to the Lunar New Year, new lines at other local manufacturers are expected to start, and exports from China to other countries will continue. However, there is a possibility that plans will be delayed and/or cancelled.

Since there are no new expansions outside of China, the increase in global demand will absorb the increase in supply. We expect that non-cost-competitive manufacturers will adjust or stop operations for the portion of supply that exceeds demand.

Can you provide a view of the current MMA supply situation in your region?

The Americas Region supply for MMA has been significantly impacted by weather events, COVID, and logistics throughout 2021. With that said, the Americas market demand remains in good health with production levels for nearly every segment limited by the availability of materials. The expectation is that demand will strengthen in 2022 when various materials become more readily available allowing customer production rates to improve over current levels.

Which sectors and what dynamics are driving methacrylate demand in your region?

All sectors are showing demand strength and growth with exception of the clear sheet market which is controlling inventory levels post the demand boom from 2020 for COVID barriers.
Economic conditions are positive overall which will set up for a strong demand pull in 2022.

How have the global logistics issues impacted the import and export of materials in your region, and what is your view for 2022?

The Methacrylates global business has been operating a global S&OP for a number of years and thus has a strong bulk vessel network in place for MMA shipments. The global supply network and established vessel movements have served the Americas Region extremely well throughout 2021. For 2022, there are no anticipated issues for MMA import supply into the Americas.

What are your views on the new MMA capacity coming to the market in the coming 1-2 years?

There will not be any new MMA capacity coming on in the Americas Region for the next 2 years. The new capacity coming on in Asia is needed and will help to replace some of the high emissions / high-cost assets in the Asia Region.

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