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PETALING JAYA: Petronas Chemicals Group Bhd (PetChem) should fare better in the second half of 2022 (2H22) with its plant utilisation (PU) rates expected to rise to an average 90% from 79% in the 1H22, to offset any price weakness in its chemical products.

PetChem posted a core net profit of RM1.9bil for the second quarter ended June 30 (2Q22), which was largely unchanged on a year-on-year (y-o-y) basis, but 10% lower quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q) as PU rates fell to 72%, which negatively impacted production and sales volumes.

Average PU rates of PetChem plants are likely to rise in the 2H22 and provide a boost to earnings and help offset anticipated weakness in product prices, according to CGS-CIMB Research.

“PetChem’s PU will likely be higher than 1H22, as there are no further planned turnaround activities, which could provide an earnings tailwind.

“PetChem’s guidance for at least 90% PU for the full year implies 2H22 PU of at least 101%,” the research house said in its report yesterday.

Petrochemical selling prices have peaked and are on the way down on weaker global demand due to inflation and as global production capacity increases, according to the Research house. It stated high density polyethylene (HDPE) prices in the region averaged US$1,299 (RM5,830) per tonne in 1Q22, US$1,332 (RM5,978) per tonne in 2Q22 and US$1,141 (RM5,121) per tonne in 3Q22, and was last traded at US$1,040 (RM4,667) per tonne on Aug 12.

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“If HDPE prices do not pick up in 4Q22 as PetChem is hoping for, there is downside risk to our current forecasts for FY22-FY23 that are based on HDPE prices of US$1,351 (RM6,871) and US$1,148 (RM5,152) per tonne respectively.

An analysis of spot prices for other products like LDPE (low density polyethylene), MEG (mono-ethylene glycol), methanol and urea yields the same conclusion,” CGS-CIMB Research added.

The negative impact of lower PU to PetChem’s 2Q22 earnings was mitigated by higher q-o-q polymer selling prices and stronger q-o-q aromatics spreads against naphtha, while the group also benefited from the appreciation of the US dollar by booking in RM163mil in net foreign exchange gains in the quarter.

The fall in PU in 2Q22 was mainly due to plant turnaround activities at its Labuan methanol plant two and the Sabah fertiliser plant as well as additional maintenance at the Bintulu fertiliser plant and at an ammonia plant to address performance issues, while water supply to the Kedah fertiliser plant was temporarily cut due to drought.

PetChem 2H could also get a boost from the proposed RM7bil acquisition of Perstorp Holdings AB, a Swedish specialty chemicals company, according to AmInvestment Bank (AmInvest) Research.

The acquisition is expected to be value-accretive and strengthen PetChem’s petrochemical portfolio, while accelerating its expansion into higher margin derivatives, specialty chemicals and solutions.

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