The Woodlands, Texas – Huntsman expects that MDI prices will drop in the coming months, unless something unforeseen happens, CEO Peter Huntsman told financial analysts on 23 February in a conference call.
Peter Huntsman said that in Q4 the company’s MDI urethanes business, which includes propylene oxide, polyols, and system businesses, recorded adjusted EBITDA of $291 m.
‘This compares with $130 m a year-ago and $254 m for the previous quarter,’ he said. ‘MDI delivered 12% volume growth year-over-year. Demand remains solid. All of our MDI production units operated at full rates during the fourth quarter.’
Huntsman added that the company benefitted from a continued spike in our component MDI in the most recent quarter.
Overall, the company gained $85m extra profit in Q4 because the MDI market is short of material. He said the industry is effectively operating at above 95% utilisation.
He added that world-scale plants are now around 400kT, but if one or two of these fail unexpectedly it can dramatically affect the price of MDI.
Geographically, the company’s North American volumes increased by 16% in construction applications during the fourth quarter.
In Europe, MDI volume increased by 22% in the quarter because of stronger demand. Additionally, the 60,000 tonne/year of additional capacity from debottlenecking Rotterdam gave the company more material in a tight market.
India, the Middle East and Russia also experienced double-digit growth in the quarter. Demand at the start of 2018 is positive in this region.
In Asia, volumes declined. This was because the company balanced production geographically before the new facility in Caojing, China starts up fully. Production at Caojing II has already started. This is being ramped up to capacity over the coming months, Peter Huntsman said. It will start to contribute to earnings in 2018, he added.
The company estimates that about 75% of its MDI urethanes are consumed in derivatives and formulations.
‘In the fourth quarter, we had 17% year-over-year growth in volumes within our differentiated [systems] business,’ he said. ‘Industry demand for MDI continues to grow at about 6% to 7%/year globally. Industry capacity needs to expand at about 400 kT/year. This is the equivalent of a world scale facility per year.’
Huntsman said his company’s view is that industry manufacturing capacity will grow by approximately 4%/year from 2016 to 2021. ‘Favourable supply and demand dynamics’ will continue into the foreseeable future,’ he said.
Prices are likely to cool over 2018, unless something unforeseen happens.
He said the company’s strategy is to invest in organic growth. It will look for acquisitions that will improve margins, with consistent earnings that grow faster than GDP.
Such acquisitions are likely to be in downstream MDI epoxy, amines and surfactants. He promised to retain the company’s investment grade rating.