Loeb To Dow: You’re No LyondellBasell
May01

Loeb To Dow: You’re No LyondellBasell

In an investor letter, Daniel Loeb, who heads the hedge fund Third Point, a major Dow Chemical shareholder, gave his constructive critique of Dow's strategy. Dow, he says, should be earning $2.5 billion more than it currently does. The letter was by no means scathing. He praised Dow's share buyback program. He acknowledged that Dow has pledged more transparency, but he wants to see more. Specifically, he wants Dow to disclose its transfer pricing methodology between its petrochemical units and its downstream derivatives businesses. Without this, it is impossible to tell whether the Eeedstocks and Energy segment is subsidizing the Performance Plastics segment. In other words, where is the company really adding value? And overall, Loeb says, Dow isn't adding enough value. And whom does he compare Dow to? LyondellBasell: "Dow has ~30% more North American ethylene capacity, triple the Middle Eastern ethylene capacity, and more North American derivatives capacity than Lyondell, yet the two companies generate the same amount of EBITDA in their respective petrochemical businesses," Loeb wrote. (Both first have about $6 billion.) Loeb also analyzed Dow's capacity against industry average margins and probable feedstock slates to get at the $2.5 billion figure. (LyondellBasell was close to being right where it should be.) Loeb isn't a big fan of Dow's strategy of integrating its petrochemicals might with downstream derivatives. This means Dow needs more people, administrative expenses, R&D, facilities, etc. "Dow's headcount is ~2.5 times more than Lyondell's, which is not a reflection on poor efficiency, but rather that Dow is engaged in numerous downstream derivatives that Lyondell is not," he wrote. He wasn't finished. "Given Dow's decision to exit chlor-alkali, it appears that Dow believes that its Ag Chemicals and Ag Biology businesses do not derive value-add differentiation from chlorine integration. We take this one step further and question whether Dow's specialty segments need ethylene or propylene integration." Loeb makes some good arguments. The transfer pricing point to me is most intriguing. I wonder if the company squanders value by dipping into its presumed feedstock subsidies by underselling rivals. The ability to do that would strike me as a temptation that's hard to resist. I also wonder if a possible solution is for Dow to throw its U.S. crackers into an master limited partnership, like Westlake is doing. Problem solved.    ...

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The Enterprise Ethane Terminal Is Quite Large (UPDATED)
Apr24

The Enterprise Ethane Terminal Is Quite Large (UPDATED)

As you may have heard, Enterprise Products Partners plans to build an ethane export terminal in Texas. It will have a capacity of 240,000 barrels of ethane per day. Let's convert that number from the oil perspective into the petrochemical one. According to John Stekla, formally the olefins guru at IHS and now with Williams Cos., 1 million metric tons of ethylene production consumes about 63,000 barrels per day of ethane. So that means that the Williams facility, IF it ran at full capacity would export enough ethane to feed 3.8 million metric tons of ethylene production. That is more than two new world scale ethylene plants. You may be wondering why I have CAPITALIZED, italicized, and bolded the word if in the preceding paragraph. Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris, at least, is criticizing the project and doesn't seem to think it would run at full capacity. Dow reflexively complains about every development that could mean petrochemical feedstocks leaving the U.S. They have been fighting hard to block Department of Energy approval of LNG export facilities to non Free Trade Agreement countries. Bloomberg reporter Jack Kaskey knows all this and asked Liveris for his take on the ethane export terminal. Upon hearing an utterance that ends in a question mark, Liveris started talking. "It's high risk, because the oil-gas arbitrage that we have baked into our assumptions for our investments is half of what it is today." In other words, oil prices will decline relative to gas prices, which would make the export terminal less attractive. "There is nothing that we see as concerning about that announcement," he added. (Every time "concerning" is said when "disconcerting" is meant, a kitten falls down a well.) Chemical Notebooks take: If the arbitrage is so fleeting, why is Dow building so much ethylene and propylene capacity on the premise of an enduring advantage? Moreover, if Enterprise truly intends to build the terminal then Enterprise believes that the project will earn its cost of capital. For that matter, companies such as Ineos seem to think that importing ethane from the U.S. also earns the cost of capital of building receiving facilities. What we have here is a mere difference of opinion. Either that, or Liveris isn't being serious in his assessment or Enterprise isn't really considering building the terminal. I would add that the premise of the investment is a big glut of ethane. The petrochemical industry isn't building capacity fast enough to soak it all up. The Enterprise project is timed for 2016, a little in advance of the flood of new ethane capacity. It could be that Enterprise needs to export...

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Dow To Europe: Drop Dead!
Mar26

Dow To Europe: Drop Dead!

I don't want it to seem like I am picking on Dow this week. This was the first day of IHS's World Petrochemical Conference in Houston. This is my 15th annual conference. So far, this conference is better than average. The place is packed with more than 1,300 people. Dow executive vice president Jim Fitterling gave an address on the beneficial economic effects of shale. We have been hearing a lot of this kind of thing in recent years. However, Fitterling went way beyond the usual touting of big numbers related to shale petrochemical investment. He said that shale will help lead to a renaissance in American manufacturing in general and is even stimulating greater R&D spending in the U.S. as manufacturers invest in technological research to support their operations. He pointed to Dow's own planned R&D facility in Lake Jackson, Texas, near its Freeport operations, as an example. Very exciting stuff and very positive. About that headline. He also took the opportunity to complain about all the liquified natural gas export capacity being planned in the U.S. So called "unfettered" exports would drive up natural gas prices and ruin everything for everybody, companies like Dow say. "No it won't," oil companies usually retort. Now if you have been following this issue, you might have heard the suggestion that U.S. exports of natural gas to Europe would loosen the energy stranglehold Vladimir Putin has on Europe. "Don't even go there," Fitterling said. No, he didn't say that. Actually he said this: Now we are pointing to the Ukraine and arguing that we must fast track LNG exports to help our allies in Europe. Even our own energy secretary says that's a weak argument, especially given the long lead time and financing to build these terminals. And let's not forget, Europe has the resources and the capability to provide for its own energy [consumption]. Just because they have rejected nuclear energy and horizontal drilling, and left themselves at the mercy of others, shouldn't create an obligation for us to bail them out by shipping our advantage to them. If Europe really wants to be energy competitive and energy secure, it cannot walk away from nuclear and they must embrace horizontal drilling and exploration. The same policies that made America competitive are available to Europe today. The real question we should ask is a simple one: what is our foreign policy, especially when it comes to our valuable energy resources? Shouldn't we know that with some certainty before we just launch ahead blindly? I heard at least one person attempt to start a round of applause while he was still talking....

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What Might Be Tagged At Dow’s Yardsale?
Mar24

What Might Be Tagged At Dow’s Yardsale?

As you have may have heard, Dow Chemical plans to sell more businesses. Back in December, the company said it would get rid of its epoxy resins and chlorine-related business, which would make the bulk of $3.0 to $4.0 billion worth of divestitures. Mind you, these numbers here are a little funky. They refer to the pre-tax proceeds to Dow from transactions that aren't necessarily even being negotiated yet. However, the company tends to get strong valuations when it sells businesses, so I would expect that the proceeds from deals would be within the range and even towards the top of it. Last week, at an investor event in Saudi Arabia, the company announced it would put an additional $1.5 to $2.0 billion in businesses up for sale. CEO Andrew N. Liveris wouldn't say what the businesses are, but he would certainly characterize them. They would be nice businesses, likely coming out of its Performance and Functional Materials units, and perhaps reasonably profitable. But they would be more meaningful to potential buyers than they currently are to Dow. They would be, Liveris promised,  "Lots of small, little businesses that you never even track, that you never follow, and that you never even knew we had." He was addressing analysts, thus casting a wide net. They are only acquainted with the solid form of ethylene known as polyethylene and Dow AgroSciences. The Chemical Notebook takes Liveris' remarks as a challenge. What are the most obscure Dow businesses? Two that jumped out at me are are Dow Plastics Plastics Additives And Dow Oil & Gas. Dow put the plastics additives unit up for sale last year and then withdrew it from the market. Oil and Gas is tiny, about $270 million in annual sales. It is a market facing unit that sells chemicals for oil and gas exploration and extraction. This is a very marketable business, with companies such as Solvay and Ecolab plunging further in this area. My only reservation about Dow selling this business is that the chemistry on offer in oil and gas overlaps with other Dow businesses. Additionally, I combed through Dow's Product Safety Assessment Finder, which by the way, is a great source of information for many chemicals. I asked question "what are the real oddball businesses?" Here are few (Don't take this as a list of possible sales, though. Some, as you will see, are likely keepers.): Silicones and Feel Modifiers: These sound dirty. They're not. They are used in leather finishing. They also sound like something Dow Corning would sell. With a tradename like ROSILK, I'll guess these came from Rohm and Haas. ADSORBIA...

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This week on CENtral Science: Tacky ancients, Solar upswing, and more
May24

This week on CENtral Science: Tacky ancients, Solar upswing, and more

Tweet of the week: "In discrepancy is discovery" - Lesson learnt from scientific research.— Curious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn) May 20, 2013 To the network: Artful Science: Was antiquity really so tacky? Cleantech Chemistry: Never Mind All That: Solar on the upswing Newscripts: In Print: Toys Will Be Toys and Amusing News Aliquots The Safety Zone: Dow launches Lab Safety Academy website The Watch Glass: Teflon: Newcomer to heat exchange and What's That Stuff? Chicken Eggs and Texas City: Portrait of a Chemical Town and C&EN Talks With Mae Jemison and Chemist tried in Chicago riot...

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