All posts by Neil A Burns

Surfactants Monthly – February and March 2018

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Surfactants Monthly Review – February and March 2018 Regular readers know my fondness for Stepan and Huntsman, two companies which have generated a fair bit of news this month. My admiration for Stepan goes back to the days of competing directly with them in the surfactant market. However, it was my analysis of Stepan’s performance during the 2009 financial crisis that I presented at the 2013 World Surfactant Conference in Jersey City, that really illuminated for me their resilient business model. In fact, I borrowed Naseem Taleb’s term “anti-fragile” as the apt descriptor for their focused, single-hitting, deeply embedded business strategy. Huntsman was one of the first raw material suppliers I did business with. The ethical behavior of the company was unquestioned. A number of years ago, I had the privilege of meeting and talking to Jon Huntsman at the University of Pennsylvania, an encounter which left its mark as I outlined in last month’s blog. The common thread for me though is that both companies and the families and people behind the companies, love surfactants and work hard at that love for the business, 24/7. You have to admire that. I mean not just the love of surfactants per…

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January 2018 – Surfactants Monthly Review

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January 2018 – Surfactants Monthly Review January was distinguished as the month in which the ACI (the real ACI) held their annual meeting in Orlando. If you’re here expecting some reporting, gossip, news, updates and anything else from that important industry meeting, sorry but we don’t do that here. 2 reasons: first it’s not cool- to be listening and talking to people and then running off and blurting it all out in a blog; second – my philosophy is, as regular readers know, “you gotta be there”. So if you want to know what happens at any event or industry gathering, just , you know, join and show up like around a thousand people did the week before last. What we have in this blog is all publicly available information, mainly from ICIS News and also from whatever I come across just googling around. The opinions of course are original but again based only on what I know is out there in the public domain. If it’s gossip you’re after, stick to Page Six where you will learn, among other things, that Victoria Beckham has, again, dashed any lingering hopes of an imminent Spice Girls reunion. Sad. 2018 is going…

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December 2017 – Surfactant Monthly Review

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December 2017 – Surfactants Monthly Review We’re playing it straight this month, with just the news. If you are looking for some commentary and a few music videos, then you’ll find plenty in our 2017 editorial – Work Success and Love. Actually not 100% straight, I’m still going to make a couple of unpaid endorsements; first for ICIS news, who provide most of the news content for these monthly updates. ICIS Pricing reported that US ethylene oxide (EO) contract prices for November went down by 2.0% on the back of a 4.3% decrease in the November contract settlement for feedstock ethylene.
November EO contract prices were assessed on Friday at 55.6-65.1 cents/lb FOB a decrease of 1.2 cents/lb from October.
US November ethylene contracts were assessed at a 1.5 cent/lb decrease. Now and again, we like to talk about the Baker Hughes Rig Count: The average rig count in the US oil and gas industry was 911 in November – down by 11 from October, but and up by 331 from 580 in November 2016, oil services major Baker Hughes reported .
In Canada, the average rig count was 204 in November – unchanged from October, but up by 31 from 173 in November 2016.
The worldwide…

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Work Success and Love

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2017 – End of Year Editorial Work, Success and Love In England in the 60’s and 70’s, open professions of love were left mainly to the professionals, you know folks like Shakespeare and the Beetles. “I love you” was rarely spoken between people who actually loved each other. Within families it was practically unheard of . Growing up, if I had told my Dad that I loved him, he would have assumed that I was high, drunk or both. The first person to whom I professed love was my first serious girlfriend. The second person, I am still married to. Upon moving to the USA, however, I quickly learned that I had entered what can only be described as a love arms-race. Professions of love were hurled about with the ferocity and frequency only surpassed by the admonition to have a nice day. A popular reply to being told that “I love you” was to say “I love you more”. Yes, a literal love arms-race. Where would it end? What did it mean? What does “love” mean? Well, I don’t know, but it’s important and so I am going to write about it. This blog was intended to be about…

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Surfactants Monthly Review – October & November 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Review – October and November 2017 We’re covering two months for the price of one today, for reasons primarily of sloth and procrastination on the part of your correspondent. I could point to the orphanage I’m building on the African subcontinent and the heavy tutoring load I’m carrying in the New Jersey inner cities as reasons for the lack of a blog in October. Unfortunately I am not doing either of those things, so that would not fly. Only a vague “too much to do with work and travel” will have to suffice. The reason for this rather pitiful preface is that, I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent a bit of time on Linkedin recently and I’ve noticed that it has increasingly become the domain of supermen and superwomen. Unless you are carrying 4 jobs (3 of them unicorn-valued start-ups) along with a charity engagement that makes Mother Theresa look like a self-absorbed narcissist, then the business / social media complex is just not interested in you. My fervent hope is that the people I see in my Linkedin feed today are either a virtual construction of a devious Microsoft algorithm designed to get me to…

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Decisions

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Decisions As we approach the final surfactants conference, in Singapore, in our 2017 series, I want to write a bit about our central theme for this year, that is decisions. We like to say that our conferences will help attendees be more effective business leaders by making better decisions. So I’d like to explore the nature and complexity of decision-making here – as I do in this year’s conference opening remarks, thereby teeing up some issues for our speakers to talk about in the ensuing one and a half days. As is customary, we start with a video. This time it’s Iron Maiden from their 2011 tour in Santiago, Chile The song is “The Trooper” and it is about one of those curious events in British history when a tragic failure, a defeat, a rout, is somehow held up and celebrated as a great victory, throughout the ages. Every English schoolboy knows the story and while, it is not clear if the Chilean schoolboys at this concert would be familiar with the details, they are more than happy to sing along with gusto. This particular event took place on the Crimean peninsula in the 19th Century and involved a British struggle…

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September 2017 – Surfactants Monthly Review

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Surfactants Monthly Review – September 2017             This month, we dealt with weather, some of which impacted our industry; although most supply chains seem to be back to normal as of the writing of this blog. We also produced two surfactant conferences, Amsterdam and Mumbai. As you know, my attitude is “you gotta be there” and so you won’t see summaries or copies of papers or anything like that here. I am, however, developing a blog post on the central theme of this year’s conferences, decisions. More on that later. At the beginning of the month, the inimitable Judith Taylor of ICIS, in an outstanding analysis, described US detergent range C12-15 alcohol contract prices as “teetering” during the first half of 2017. This as volatile feedstock costs and flat demand pushed back on producer margins barely recovering from benchmark lows in 2016.
”Teetering”, as students of Norse languages will tell you, means “about to fall”. 
US fatty alcohol contract prices were at benchmark lows entering 2016. While that timeframe seems old, it is an important starting point in considering the 2017 price trends.
This is because recovering from the low end of the Q1 2016 range of 53.00-62.00 cents/lb ($1,168.45-1,366.86/tonne), with a…

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Surfactants Review – July 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Review – July 2017 From Coatzacoalcos to the Cantons.. This month we look again at the issue of freedom in our markets. The blog asks the question; can Pemex of Mexico teach Clariant of Switzerland, something on this subject. Mere months ago, this questions would seem preposterous. Today, I’m not so sure. Read on… This month’s first piece is pulled from the an article by the excellent Al Greenwood in ICIS Chemical business and is one which I have waited a long time to read. All comments in bold are mine. Reality finally comes to the Mexican EO Market! In another outstanding analysis, Al writes that Mexican state producer Pemex completed an electronic auction to award supplies of ethylene oxide (EO) to customers in the country.
Pemex said 10 businesses participated in the auction. 
Pemex did not disclose any prices, but said that it was at a level that balanced supply and demand (Wait, what!? Price settles at a level that balances supply and demand? What heresy is this?) Moreover, it exceeded the historical price (surprise!). 
Pemex called the auction a success (Duh..) and said that it left behind the previous cumbersome practice of allocating volumes and prices by the state…

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Surfactants Monthly – June 2017

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Surfactants Monthly – June 2017 1776, NEPIC and the common good.. On this Independence Day here in the US, I think back to my homeland in the UK as I did one year ago in the blog. Mid June, I had the privilege, again, to attend the annual meeting of NEPIC, the Northeast Process Industries Cluster in Teeside in the Northeast of England. This meeting marked the retirement of the first CEO and founder of this outstanding trade organization, Stan Higgins. NEPIC was formed as a voluntary association of companies promoting industry in the Northeast and over 13 years has been incredibly successful. As Stan mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago, in the beginning it was just him, an overhead projector and a whole lot of doubt about the future of the UK chemical industry and the Northeast in particular. Since 2004, 83 process sector investment projects have been delivered in the region valued at £4.3 billion. There are more than 1,400 companies directly involved or in the supply chain of the chemical process industries, generating £26 billion of annual sales. Together they employ 190,000 people and the sector exports £12 billion each year – making this region the only net…

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Surfactants Monthly Report – May 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Short-Review – May 2017 Of Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey and Mel Gibson.. First the commercials: All the news this week is courtesy of ICIS. Consider subscribing to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are mentioned here. And, of course, if you like what you read here, please consider our conferences which are coming up in Amsterdam, Mumbai and Singapore. You will meet many new companies and learn a lot. Last month in New York, we had our biggest and best conference yet. Scroll down for some pictures and video. End of commercials As reported by ICIS, our good friends and conference sponsor Sasol’s base and performance chemicals sales volumes rose year on year for the nine months ended 31 March, by 6% and 2%, respectively.. 

Higher performance chemicals volumes were unable to offset lower selling prices over the period, causing a fall in revenue at that division.
Within Sasol’s base chemical divisions, polymers sales volumes rose by 11% during the nine-month period, which corresponded to a total of 1.05m tonnes sold, while volumes of solvents stood at 728,000 tonnes, up 7%. Sasol disclosed revenue figures for its other chemical arm, Performance Chemicals, with the July 2016-March 2017 figures down by 3.9% to rand…

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Surfactants Monthly – March and April 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Short-Review – March and April, 2017 Decisions, decisions… First the commercials: All the news this week is courtesy of ICIS. Consider subscribing to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are mentioned here. And, of course, if you like what you read here, please consider our upcoming conference in New York, May 17-19 At this flagship event, hundreds of industry leaders will take part in the first surfactant industry awards. You will be amazed at the work and preparation which went into the nominations and entries to this event. “You gotta be there” at the conference to attend the awards. It will be a great time. You’ll learn a lot, meet some great business contacts and make better decisions in your professional life as a result. Don’t miss it. We’ll be spending time talking about decisions, why they are hard, even physically exhausting and how you can make better ones. I won’t give too much away here, but I will examine what I have come to refer to as the “Oprah Effect”. Love her or not, Oprah is talented, focused, driven, hard working, successful, influential and very rich. She’s got a lot to teach the…

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Surfactants Monthly – February 2017

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Surfactants Monthly Review – February, 2017 The Russians are Coming! Before the bulk of our surfactants news, a quick personal update. As many of you know, I have been spending an increasing portion of my time as CEO of a venture-backed technology start-up, P2 Science. In February, we closed on our B round of equity financing, bringing in $9.55 Million of new investment into the company. This was accomplished primarily by bringing in two large new investors, BASF Ventures and Xeraya Capital. BASF, I think everyone knows. Ventures is their venture capital company. Xeraya is based in Malaysia and is very active in the life sciences and health sectors. P2 is their first chemical investment. With this new capital, the company starts to build our first commercial manufacturing plant for F&F ingredients. The proprietary chemical manufacturing technology ( no bugs, algae, yeast, enzymes etc..) has been developed and patented over the last five years at our labs in New Haven and Woodbridge, CT. To learn more you can read the PR on our website and on BASF’s. OK back to surfactants, with the news courtesy largely of ICIS. Subscribe to their dashboard to get the rest of the stories that are…

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Surfactants Monthly – January 2017

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Surfactants Monthly – January 2017  January is always ACI month in the surfactants calendar. This year’s ACI was distinguished by the return of Burns and Muir (this time with Blackmon and Campbell) to the winner’s (2nd place) podium at the P&G golf outing. The rich prize money was, on this occasion, dwarfed by the prestigious Tide trophy which will receive pride of place on our mantelpiece (once the detergent inside has been used). If you’re looking for a summary of ACI proceedings here or some Page Six style ACI gossip, stop reading now (and by the way, get a life, if it was the gossip you were after). We don’t do that here because, as regular readers know, “you gotta be there” is our attitude to industry events. If you did miss the ACI, I suppose your only recourse (in addition possibly to going to Confession) is to make sure you absolutely do not miss our 7th ICIS Surfactants Conference, May 17 – 19th in Jersey City, NJ. The blog is being written while the superbowl pre-game chunters on in the background. For our industry, a superbowl of sorts has already been playing out all of last year and is…

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December 2016 Surfactant Monthly

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December 2016 Surfactant Review The News Phrase of the month? “Fake News”. That is not what you will find here. With the invaluable support of my good friends at ICIS, I am able to bring you the real news about what happened this last month in the surfactants markets. We have a companion blog posting on a 2016 Retrospective, which has hardly anything to do with surfactant news, focused rather on my thoughts on the year, on a thousand years of history and some interesting music for your contemplation. That blog post is here at this link. First a commercial, which I permit you to skip right now, by going to the next paragraph. A lot of what we talk about in this blog (and that includes the music) is brought to life in our surfactant conferences which are produced around the world and throughout the year. In 2017, we will be in New York, Western Europe, Mumbai and Singapore. Check our surfactants portal here for updated information. As always, we bring you original content and the best networking opportunities in the industry. New York in May, sees our first awards ceremony and a number of first-time ever speakers. We’re…

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2016 Retrospective

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2016 Retrospective Division This is not the December 2016 Surfactant Review. That is in a separate post, at this link. This post here consists of some of my thoughts about 2016 and the near future, interspersed with topical music video mostly from my youth. By reading this post, you will likely not learn much, if anything, about surfactants. So, if it is surfactants news and analysis you are after, go to this link for our December 2016 Surfactants Monthly. End of disclaimer. 2016 was characterized as one of “division” and much popular opinion deemed it therefore a bad year and one to be dismissed with “good riddance”. In fact, just today (December 28th), a 2016 good riddance party was held in New York. Of course it seems that division is the worst characterization of all that can be made of any situation and divisiveness is right up there with the sloth, gluttony et al in the popular firmament of modern sins. In any event, 2016 is being branded the year of division for reasons which I understand but into which I think we should dig a little deeper. Looking back in even recent history, one sees much greater division and…

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