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European chemical firms are poised for profit warnings

German majors among those being hit by weakening demand for industrial chemicals

by Alex Scott
October 12, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 34


A an aerial shot of a portion of a chemical plant.
Credit: Lanxess
Lanxess, which operates multiple chemical plants in Germany, including this one in Mannheim, is expected to warn investors that profits will be less than it had forecast.

The European chemical industry’s economic outlook is worsening, according to analysts and industrial organizations, and German companies are especially affected.

The investment bank Berenberg says it expects the German firms BASF and Lanxess to issue profit warnings for the fourth quarter. In a note to investors, analysts at the bank cite weakening demand for industrial chemicals. BASF CEO Martin Brudermüller is set to hand the reins to a new leader in 2024 and, given the current economic climate, that could mean divestments for the big firm are on the horizon, Berenberg analysts state.

The value of BASF’s shares are down about 20% since the start of the year, while Lanxess’s share price has dropped by about half. BASF, Lanxess, and other European chemical firms will publish their third-quarter financial results in the next few weeks.

A survey in September by IFO Institute, a German economic organization, concluded that the business climate in the country’s chemical industry deteriorated in September compared with August.

Germany’s main chemical industry association, Verband der Chemischen Industrie (VCI), is calling on the German government to ensure that the chemical sector has a secure supply of energy at an affordable price. “We are tired of hearing bad news about our business location every day,” VCI managing director Wolfgang Große says in a press release. “With each passing day, the situation of our companies becomes more and more dire.”

Softening demand for industrial chemicals is also being felt in other parts of Europe. The Chemical Industries Association, a UK trade group, found in a September survey of 50 members that 86% expect their sales to be flat or lower in 2023 compared with 2022. The survey also found that 57% face lower production levels and plant capacity utilization.

“There is no hiding the fact that these survey results make for grim reading, with nine out of ten businesses anticipating reduced—or at best static—sales, and optimism drifting further out with each passing quarter,” association CEO Steve Elliott says in a press release.



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