Superabsorbent Polymer Supply During 2010 and Beyond
Please see the following summary regarding the
state of superabsorbent polymers. I did not write it. Rather a
colleague in the industry wrote it. I believe it to be very accurate
and I agree with the information contained therein.
Since the 4th quarter of 2009 we
have seen an almost perfect storm of events that are affecting the
SAP supply around the world. These events, mostly unforeseen
production problems for the primary raw material, glacial acrylic
acid (GAA), have caused the market supply to tighten faster than
anyone predicted. Following is a brief summary of market conditions
in each region as we are seeing and being told.
1. Asia-Pacific: As far as the petrochemical industry is
concerned, Asia is driving the trends in the world today. This
includes all aspects of materials production, prices and growth. The
Asian GAA supply has been tight, and remains tight with prices
increasing weekly in spot markets. Also SAP production capacity in
Asia has been at 100% for 6 months now. Most makers are now
reporting to be in an oversold position by 5-10% of current
capacity. New capacities slated to come on in 2010 will add less
than 10% new SAP capacity to the region. Plus, there are production
problems on the horizon with nearly all Asian makers shutting down
plants and systems for maintenance, as is their custom every summer.
(Not to mention the possible production breakdowns that can
unexpectedly occur.) All these factors are putting tremendous
pressure on already strained systems. SAP makers are pushing through
with plans to expand their capacities. Still if ground is broken
today it will take ~2 years before significant new SAP capacity can
be realized. Any new SAP capacity must also be accompanied by a
supporting GAA production.
2. North America: Here is
where most of the perfect storm hit and this time it was not a
hurricane in the gulf. Domestic SAP supply had started to tighten
just before 4th quarter last year. Still GAA was fairly available,
but the market was feeling some upward price pressure from
increasing propylene feedstock pricing used for acid production. The
market was set for a possible SAP shortage coming by mid-2010. Then,
the perfect storm of events started to happen before the New Year:
1. SAP imports from Asia started to pull back from
the NA market.
2. One US SAP maker started to have reactor system
problems, reducing their production output.
3. American Acryl plant in Baytown, TX caught fire
and its GAA production was effectively destroyed until mid 2010.
This effectively shut off supply of GAA to Nippon Shokubai’s
Chattanooga SAP plant.
4. Dow chemical announced in December that they too
had an acrylic acid unit down and had to reduce shipments to
customers. This further reduced the SAP production to at least 2
domestic SAP plants.
5. In a private disclosure to customers, Dow
declared force majeure on GAA contracts March 9th, and implemented
supply allocation, affecting US SAP production capacity. SAP
shipments have been delayed going into April and beyond for several
With these events the SAP supply is falling very
short of current demand. The duration is not known, but industry
managers feel that once Dow fixes their GAA production, and American
Acryl is back in production, the SAP supply situation can return to
~100% of capacity. However, with no real new capacity coming on
stream anytime soon, the NA market may well experience SAP shortages
for the remainder of the year even with capacity at 100%.
3. European Union: The EU market is tracking in parallel to
the NA and AP market. As they entered 2010, some GAA & SAP supplies
were available. But as they now enter the 2nd quarter, SAP demand is
said to be at 100% and about to be in short supply. Possibly some of
this is due to NA and Asia problems. We know that Middle Eastern
companies, shorted by Asian supply of SAP, are turning to the EU.
Likewise, NA customers and US SAP makers are pulling from the EU
plants to regain some lost capacity here. Unless the Euro weakens
more against the USD, this situation will remain spotty and
short-term. Still the fact is that extra SAP volumes, once available
in the EU, will likely not be there come April. How long it will
continue and how deep the short supply will be is uncertain for the
EU at this point. We continue to monitor the situation.
4. Market Summary: Global demand for SAP continues to
increase almost without regard to the current situation.
Conservative numbers put demand growing at 6% annually, but in fact
the growth being realized is closer to 10%. The major brand diaper
producers seem to be moving forward with plans to increase SAP usage
in all global markets rather than conserve given the current
shortage. This condition is affecting the availability of SAP supply
to smaller and more specialized users. Capital investment in
petrochemicals, which has been in decline the past few years in NA &
the EU, is key to any significant future SAP expansion. In the
current economy, the future NA & EU expansions can really only be
driven by major purchase commitments. Few if any companies will
build a plant on faith that the customers will come… the risk is too
great. The capital requirements for the integrated supply chain are
prohibitive for new blood to enter the markets, except maybe in
China, India and the middle East. Still it will take time to get the
production in place. So at least for the near term, customers will
be chasing dwindling supplies of SAP in all markets.
From these events and market conditions, we see a very tight and
short supply for SAP for the foreseeable future. How long will it
last? We are not sure, and cannot speak for producers' plans, but
the conditions are right for it to last at least through 2010. There
are no real, newly announced, large-scale capacities for SAP coming
on the horizon. Even when it comes, the GAA/SAP production stream
must be there and compete for a tight propylene supply with the
larger demand of polypropylene and other polymers. So SAP expansions
could be limited for the next few years depending on several
downstream supply factors.
What does all this mean and why am I telling you now? The short
answer is… so that you can be aware of the market conditions and
incorporate the information into your planning. We will continue to
do the best we can to supply customers with available volumes.
However, the larger market today is conniving against all of us and
it will take a strong effort to keep plans on course. Communication
is key to keeping on top of developments and changes to come. We
also urge all customers to seek out more information from other
sources to verify this information and not just take our view. Our
goal, as always, is to work with and support our customers to the
best of our ability.
I echo my colleague’s comments relative to sharing
this information with you.
Please consider this information as you
navigate 2010 and beyond.
Do not hesitate to contact
WaterGelCrystals with any questions or concerns.