One of Britain’s biggest manufacturing exporters – the chemical industry – has seen a fall in activity but is still achieving growth.
Publishing the full results of the Chemical Industries Association’s Q4 2021 survey, Chief Executive Steve Elliott said “With energy prices increasing by at least 500% for many companies over the past 12 months, raw material costs rising by an average 30% and shipping delays showing little sign of easing, these are the most challenging times in recent memory for UK chemical businesses. It is perhaps remarkable then that the industry continues to show some growth – a tribute to the fantastic performance delivered by every worker in our sector, right across the UK”
Highlighting the survey findings, the Association’s Head of Economics, Tom Warren said “Over 95% of respondents experienced an increase in raw material costs in Q4, with 79% expecting that raw material costs will continue to rise through Q1 2022. He continued: “89% of respondents experienced an increase in energy costs in Q4, 71% expect them to continue rising through Q1 2022. The costs for a trade-intensive sector are also escalating, with “74% of respondents reporting that the cost of importing increased in Q4 2021 while 67% reported increases in the cost of exporting – a situation not expected to improve in Q1 2022”.
Steve Elliott concluded “the scale and cumulative impact of these rising costs will inevitably put pressure on investment decisions for UK chemical businesses, many of which are headquartered overseas. Whilst it’s true that many of these price rises are also being felt around the world, we do urge the Government to act now to address costs which are within its control. The coming weeks will confirm if that can be achieved in the regulatory area as we reconsider the current design of UK REACH and we believe a similar approach should be taken to address increasingly uncompetitive gas, electricity and carbon costs for one of the UK’s critical manufacturing industries”.
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Our Q4 2021 survey was carried out in mid-January
The responses we have are from 45 chemical businesses including multi-nationals and SMEs
The full results of the Chemical Industries Association’s Q4 2021 survey also reflected:
- Modest sales growth in the final quarter of 2021 driven by growth in all major markets (domestic, EU and rest of the world). Looking to Q1 2022, 48% of respondents expect sales to increase while only 11% expect a fall.
- After five successive quarters of strong new orders growth and improvements in capacity utilisation, both metrics displayed a small contraction in Q4 however are expected to bounce back in Q1 2022.
- In Q4 more members reported an increase than did a decrease in employee numbers and business investment while R&D spend was flat. Looking ahead to Q1 2022 33% of respondents expect to increase business investment while only 7% expect to reduce it.
- Over 81% of respondents increased the price of their finished goods in Q4 2021, 67% expect to increase them further in Q1 2022.
- 43% of respondents reported a fall in their margins in Q4 with only 14% experiencing an increase. 22% of respondents expect to see an increase in margins Q1 2022 with the remained expecting them to fall or stay the same.
- Looking forward 12 months the industry is optimistic that there will be strong sales and production growth, driven largely by exports, while business investment, employee numbers and R&D spend are all set for large increases. However, alongside this will be continued rises in the cost of energy, raw materials, finished goods and trade.
- When asked to rank 12 issues facing the industry from largest to smallest 54% of respondents chose ‘Energy price increases’ as the biggest issue, a further 21% chose ‘Raw material shortages’ and 12% ‘Raw material price increases’.
- When asked where these 12 issues were improving, worsening or remaining unchanged, 81% of respondents said energy prices were worsening while 81% said raw material prices were worsening. In fact, for all 12 issues more members reported they were worsening than improving.
- When asked whether Brexit or Covid have changed members sourcing of raw materials 77% of respondents said no to both Brexit and covid.
- When asked what the biggest opportunity for members sites / companies 24% of respondents replied with increasing production / capacity. Efficiency and utilisation were other areas reported multiple times.