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Brazil's PVC imports to increase steadily; North American producers may benefit

By: Bob Moser
PLASTICS NEWS CORRESPONDENT

September 13, 2013

SÃO PAULO — Slow but steady GDP growth, demand for new public-private housing construction and investments for both infrastructure and sanitation through at least 2016 will keep PVC imports on the rise for Brazil.

Analysts with IHS Inc. project that Brazil's PVC needs will approach 2.2 billion pounds by the end of this year, with steady annual growth topping 2.84 billion pounds by 2020. That demand will increasingly be met by imports, with no prospect of a PVC player investing in a new Brazilian plant or expansion of installed capacity, said João Cataldo, an IHS Brazilian specialist in PVC and chlorine.

"Brazil's economy will only continue to grow, despite low prospects for [gross domestic product]. All that development requires PVC and the majority must be imported, so it's a good market to focus on," Cataldo told Plastics News during the IHS Latin American Petrochemicals & Polymers Conference, held Sept. 4-5 in São Paulo.

Brazil currently boasts almost 2 billion pounds of installed capacity for PVC among three domestic Braskem SA plants, and one under Belgian producer Solvay SA. The domestic market produced 1.4 billion pounds in 2012, up 40 million pounds from the previous year, while operating at 72 percent capacity.

Brazil's PVC imports topped 680 million pounds in 2012 and are expected to reach 900 million pounds this year, with imports for January through July having totaled 520 million pounds. Those imports face a general tax of 14 percent, in addition to antidumping tariffs against specific countries that vary from 2-22 percent.

Braskem confirmed Sept. 3 it is bidding to buy the PVC assets of Solvay's Indupa business in Argentina and Brazil's São Paulo state, which produce PVC and caustic soda. Mexico's Mexichem and Braskem are seen as the most likely buyers. Solvay had announced in February a desire to sell the Indupa assets, which have a PVC production capacity of more than 1 billion pounds.

Cost challenges

Electricity dominates Brazilian PVC production costs to the tune of 59 percent, and the high cost of that energy puts Brazilian producers at a global disadvantage from the get-go.

Electricity in Brazil costs $75/MWh, compared with $13 in the Middle East, $27 in the United States, $46 in Asia and $68 in Europe. Only China, at $87/MWh, faces a greater challenge, according to IHS data.

The cost of natural gas in the U.S. is $4-$5/MMBtu, compared with $12-$14 in Brazil. IHS estimates a cost for U.S. shale gas of $260-$280/ton for ethane input, while producers in Brazil face $900-$950/ton for naphtha.

Producers in Brazil also face an industrial tax rate of more than 50 percent, while in the United States it is 35 percent, and in Europe 33 percent. These factors and more make Brazil an ideal export target for North American producers of chlorine derivatives, as shale gas helps drive down production costs there, IHS analysts said.

Cost challenges aside, Brazil's infrastructure deficiencies lock it in for PVC demand over the next decade, said Mauricio Harger, CEO of Mexichem Brasil.

"The infrastructure growth potential is great for housing, agribusiness and irrigation," said Harger, citing focal areas for Mexichem Brasil. Brazil currently has just 48 percent of its national waste sanitation network outfitted with contemporary piping, he added.