EU Chemicals Output Impacted by Pandemic

06.12.2020 - Despite “encouraging” signs of a recovery of chemical production in May from the coronavirus-related “historic slump” in March and April, progress is now slowing, the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) said in its report on the first nine months of 2020.

Looking at the figures for the first three quarters, CEFIC says the EU 27’s chemical output sank 4.4% against the same period of 2019, due in part to the 10.6% downswing in EU manufacturing as a whole.

Significantly, EU exports outside the bloc up to August, at €111.7 billion, were 5.5% below the 2019 level. At €86.4 billion, chemical imports from outside the 27-member bloc in the first eight months were almost 4% below the same period.

Among the large chemical-producing countries represented by the industry association, companies in France and Italy – where production sank 10% and 13% respectively – were the most negatively impacted by the virus-triggered crisis in the first three quarters, followed by Spain, Belgium and Portugal with 4%. Germany’s output sank 3.6%, that of the UK by 1.7%. Poland’s production was flat.

Globally, chemicals output declined 1.8% from January to September. China stood out positively, with a rise of 0.7%. The People’s Republic is showing a V-shaped recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, CEFIC’s data shows, and its output level was the highest ever in September.

In the rest of the world, the poor consumer economy took its toll, with Japan (down 10.7%) and India (down 9.4%) most severely affected. Figures for the US, with a 4.5% drop, were in line with the EU 27.

Looking at the industries chemical producers supply, the association’s figures point clearly to the automotive sector, with a deterioration of 28% against the 2019 period, as the worst hit, followed by basic metals with a setback of 15.5%. The plastics and rubber sector’s output sank 11%. Electrical appliances saw a decrease of around 4.5%. Production of chemicals for the food and beverage sector held up best, with a decline of only 2.6%.

In the first eight months, EU chemical producers saw sales revenue recede by 9% to €318.2 billion, due to weak order volume within the 27-member bloc and the deterioration of the trade business environment altogether. Capacity utilization at the end of September was still 7.7% below the previous year’s level. Selling prices deteriorated by 5%.

CEFIC does not attempt to estimate how figures will develop in the coming months. However, director-general Marco Mensink says the current wave of Covid infections is “serious,” and will continue to impact chemical businesses.  This outlook, he says, “underpins the need for rapid approval and implementation of the EU Economic Recovery Plan, which needs to be firmly embedded in the EU Industrial Strategy and the Green Deal agenda.”

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist