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U.S. Specialty Chemical Markets End 2019 on a Soft Note

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) reported that U.S. specialty chemicals market volumes ended 2019 on a soft note, with a 0.3% decline in December following a 0.1% gain in November. All changes in the data are reported on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis. Of the 28 specialty chemical segments ACC monitors, 16 segments expanded in December, up from 10 in November. Ten markets declined in December and two were flat. During December, large market volume gains (1.0% and over) occurred only in electronic chemicals. On a sequential basis, diffusion was 61%, up from 39% in November.

During December, the overall specialty chemicals volume index was off 0.3% on a year-over-year (Y/Y) 3MMA basis. Year-earlier comparisons have eased since the third quarter of 2018. In December, the index stood at 113.1%of its average 2012 levels. This is equivalent to 7.71 billion pounds (3.50 million metric tons). On a Y/Y basis, there were gains in 10 market and functional specialty chemical segments. Compared with last year, volumes were down in 18 segments. On a year-earlier basis, diffusion was 36%, a worsening comparison. 

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Performance chemistry reflects trends in manufacturing and activity for 2019 as a whole was up only 1.0% from average 2018 levels. During 2019, only 13 segments expanded.

Specialty chemicals are materials manufactured on the basis of the unique performance or function and provide a wide variety of effects on which many other sectors and end-use products rely. They can be individual molecules or mixtures of molecules, known as formulations. The physical and chemical characteristics of the single molecule or mixtures along with the composition of the mixtures influence the performance end product. Individual market sectors that rely on such products include automobile, aerospace, agriculture, cosmetics and food, among others.

Specialty chemicals differ from commodity chemicals. They may only have one or two uses, while commodities may have multiple or different applications for each chemical. Commodity chemicals make up most of the production volume in the global marketplace, while specialty chemicals make up most of the diversity in commerce at any given time, and are relatively high value with greater market growth rates.

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