Chemical & Engineering News

June 23, 1997

Copyright © 1997 by the American Chemical Society

PRODUCTION: Mixed in 1996

The tempered pace of U.S. chemical production growth continued in 1996, with some segments posting gains and others, losses.

Production by the overall chemical industry rose 2% in 1996, matching the growth rate from 1995, according to the Federal Reserve Board's index of production for chemicals and allied products. The overall tally, however, belies the decline in basic chemicals and industrial organic chemicals - production for both categories fell in 1996.

The board's production index for basic chemicals - inorganics - shows a 4% drop in 1996. Annual production of inorganic chemicals has been declining since 1992.

For specific inorganic chemicals, data from the Department of Commerce show double-digit drops for hydrogen, sodium silicate, and sodium sulfate. Ammonia and nitrogen, on the other hand, posted double-digit gains.

Also from the board, production of industrial organic chemicals declined 2% in 1996, reversing the 2% rise in 1995. Production of several organic chemicals saw double-digit drops, according to the National Petroleum Refiners Association (NPRA) survey. Ethylene dichloride, o-xylene, aniline, and ethylbenzene appear to have plummeted, although some of the decline in the numbers may be attributable to the change of reporting from government to private agencies.

The International Trade Commission (ITC) stopped collecting and publishing synthetic organic chemicals data after it compiled the 1995 numbers. NPRA has picked up the task for a number of organic chemicals, but not for all of the those on the ITC list. The table of organic chemicals in this issue lists those industrial organics for which data are still compiled. Also, the Top 50 Chemicals list is no longer included in this issue because of the lack of acceptable data for many organic chemicals.

Output of synthetic materials posted a 5% gain in 1996, continuing its steady upward momentum. Within that sector, plastic materials jumped 7% and synthetic fibers rose 1%. Production of rubber and plastic products also went up 1%. The Society of the Plastics Industry reported gains of 3% for thermoset resins and 9% for thermoplastic resins. The largest gain was for linear low-density polyethylene, which grew 21% to 6.4 billion lb. High-density polyethylene and polypropylene both were up 10% to 12.4 billion lb and 12.0 billion lb, respectively. Output of polyvinyl chloride was up 8%.

North American synthetic rubber shipments grew 3%, according to the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers. This was the fifth consecutive year of growth.

And the Fiber Economics Bureau reported a very slight uptick in synthetic fibers, with noncellulosic fibers posting a 1% gain and cellulosics falling 4% in 1996. Acrylic and nylon made the largest percentage gains, 6% and 4%, respectively. Olefin production fell 2%.

Paint production shot up 9%, according to the Federal Reserve Board. However, the Department of Commerce registered an even more impressive 12% gain in shipments. Architectural paints, which had a banner year, accounted for most of the increase, jumping 21% in 1996.

According to the Fertilizer Institute, fertilizer consumption recovered somewhat in fiscal 1996, with a 3% increase. But levels did not reach the peak 1994 consu mption. Production of ammonia and other nitrogen products continued to make gains. Phosphate products mostly saw gains, although production of diammonium phosphate slipped. And potassium chloride output fell 6%.

Production of some minerals - such as phosphate rock and potash - declined, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Production of lime rose 3%; sodium carbonate and sulfur both maintained their 1995 levels.

According to the American Crop Protection Association (ACPA), pesticide production rose 6% in 1996, rebounding to top by a bit 1994 levels, after a decline in 1995. An ACPA spokesman says the industry's growth is not shown adequately by growth in volume because producers are developing lower dosage replacements for old pesticides. Nevertheless, production of herbicides rose 7% in 1996, and output of insecticides and nematicides made smaller gains. Fungicides slipped 7%, and plant growth regulators leveled off.

Despite the mixed results for production, the U.S. chemical industry had a healthy profit last year. "The economy looks good," says Allen J. Lenz, director of economics for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and first-quarter 1997 results for CMA members have been promising. "We are optimistic that this is going to be another good year. We expect growth to continue, the only question is how strongly. If it comes close to 1996, it will still be good."

PRODUCTION: Most chemicals lagged total manufacturing in '96, but paints, plastics were strong

ORGANIC CHEMICALS: Output for most dropped last year

INORGANIC CHEMICALS: Nitrogen, ammonia made double-digit gains, but some products slid

MINERALS: Phosphate rock and potash production slipped in an unimpressive 1996

PLASTICS: Polyethylenes, polyproplene led thermoplastics growth, thermosets were mixed

PAINTS AND COATINGS: Shipments jumped 12% in 1996, led by gains in architectural use

AEROSOLS: Output of units rose 7%, with household products and paints in the lead

SYNTHETIC RUBBER: Shipments continued on steady 3% rise in 1996

SYNTHETIC FIBERS: Acrylic and nylon bounced back, but total production stalled for second year

PESTICIDES: After slip in 1995, production regained ground in 1996

FERTILIZER CONSUMPTION: Nitrogen led growth in 1996 rebound

FERTILIZER PRODUCTION: Nitrogen products made largest gains overall in 1996