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U.S. Specialty Chemicals Market Falls

The Specialty Chemicals Market Volume Index, a new tool created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), fell further during the fourth quarter, slipping back 0.2 percent on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis in November.

This follows a 0.1 percent decline in October and a generally weak first half of the year. Weakness in 2015 remains centered on oilfield chemicals and a few other segments that combined weighed on overall volumes. Although there was weakness beyond oil chemicals during November, market volumes excluding oilfield chemicals were essentially flat, suggesting some stabilization of overall U.S. industrial activity.

The overall specialty chemicals volume index was off 2.0 percent year-over-year (Y/Y) also on a 3MMA basis. Year-earlier comparisons were generally in the 4 percent to 6.8 percent range during 2012-2014, but since February of this year they have fallen below that range as the downturn in the oil and gas sectors affected headline volumes. In addition, the strong U.S. dollar has adversely affected a number of export-oriented customer industries. Still, on a Y/Y basis, gains remain fairly widespread among most market and functional specialty chemical segments. With few exceptions, however, year-earlier comparisons have been moderating. Headline volumes are up only 0.3 percent year-to-date (YTD).

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. Some areas where specialty chemicals are used include adhesives, cleaning materials, cosmetic additives, construction materials, food additives, fragrances, and detergents

This data is the only timely source of market trends for twenty-eight market and functional specialty chemical segments. Chemistry directly touches over 96 percent of all manufactured goods, and trends in these specialty chemical segments provide a detailed view of trends in manufacturing. The data also sheds light on how various consumer end-use markets are performing compared to others in the marketplace.

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