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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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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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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 – 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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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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Surfactant Monthly Review – October 2016

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October 2016 – Surfactants Monthly The nine most terrifying words… October was a big news month and so I won’t waste a lot of time on commercials except to note that, next week, I’ll be in Singapore for a bunch of meetings and the sixth Asian Surfactant Conference in Singapore. Please join me there, November 8 – 9th at the Marina Bay Sands. On Monday the 7th we have our business training course. I also want to remind readers that if you like this news content, you can get stuff like this every single day, all day, 24/7, 365 (get the picture!) at www.icis.com. Subscribe to the dashboard, like I do. You won’t regret it. Now the news: In Berlin, the talk was all about Palm and I expect the same in Singapore next week. As reported by ICIS, Malaysia’s crude palm oil (CPO) production increased for the second month running in September, but crude palm kernel oil (CPKO) production declined after recovering in August, according to official data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board.
The country saw its CPO production increased from 1,701,831 tonnes in August to 1,715,125 tonnes in September, marking a second consecutive month of increase, but still…

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Love - to the Seventh Generation

Surfactant Monthly Review – September 2016

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September 2016 – Surfactants Monthly The highlight of the month for me, of course, was the trip to Berlin and the 5th ICIS European Surfactant Conference. We were fortunate enough to have one of ICIS’ young up-and-coming journalists cover the whole thing for us so I will post a few links to Melissa Bartlett’s surfactant articles in a separate post. Coming up next month we have the 6th (already!) Asian Surfactant Conference in Singapore. Please join me there, November 8 – 9th at the Marina Bay Sands. As always, the day before, we have our business training course as an optional extra for all conference attendees. End of commercial. Here’s the news: A big new refinery project in China will include ethylene oxide capacity, according to ICIS. China’s Zhejiang Rongsheng is building a joint venture refinery-petrochemical complex in Zhoushan, with the first phase due to start up in late 2018.
The yuan (CNY) 160bn ($24bn) project, which will be built in two phases in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, is expected to have an overall refining capacity of 40m tonnes/year or 800,000 bbl/day. 
It will have an ethylene capacity of 2.8m tonnes/year, with aromatics production estimated at 10.4m tonnes/year, and will include a propane dehydrogenation (PDH)…

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August 2016 – No Review this Month – Music Videos Instead

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No Monthly Review for August – Music Videos Instead This month was consumed by work and a proper vacation for a welcome change. Instead of a surfactants review, therefore, I am going to pull a selection of music videos that represent, for me some themes of the summer that just passed. Allow some time for this whole post to load.. First for those who worked all summer, who better than Bananarama from the early 80’s: Some classic NYC scenes, including from Jersey City.. If you are still feeling regretful about working instead of the basting on the beach, consider this classic from Madness. Going one step beyond in your work is OK. Don’t be ashamed of it. Just make sure you do it in all your walks of life, not just work.. As I trawled the internet looking for songs this summer, I got to thinking just how many songs feature, in a very glamorous light, towns and cities in the USA, some very small. For example, even my little adopted home-town, Freehold, NJ has its own paean written and sung by Bruce Springsteen here.. I distinctly remember coming to the US in 1984 and going on my first business trip…

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Surfactants Monthly Review – July 2016

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Surfactants Monthly – July 2016 Of Bucks Fizz, Kim and a Pricey Razor Herewith our summary for the month of July, as always, with the much appreciated help of the news team at ICIS. I strongly urge readers who want real-time news across the whole chemicals value chain to subscribe to the dashboard. “We’re from the government and we’re here to help” – words to cast a chill over any industry and the US cleaning industry is no exception. As reported at the beginning of the month, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) wants to reduce or eliminate the government encouraged, use of animal fats in biodiesel. The reason is that its members are losing out to biofuels under EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Animal fats are a key feedstock for oleochemical producers, which help supply makers of soap, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, hard surface cleaners, dish detergents and personal care products, as well as many other everyday consumer and industrial products.
”The proposed (RFS) volumes would continue to divert large quantities of a finite, inelastic supply of animal fats to the biofuels market, thereby critically disadvantaging the domestic oleochemical industry,” said Jacob Cassady, ACI associate director of government affairs.
”EPA has a responsibility, if…

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