Author Argus

Chlor-alkali experts Stephanie Koenig, Bernard Law and George Eisenhauer talk to Lauren Williamson about the outlook for chlorine in Europe, Asia and the Americas, including

  • Europe: Any signs of a recovery? What are the opportunities and challenges for chlorine over the next 5-10 years?
  • Asia: How is chlorine and its derivatives going to perform? Will this differ across Asia?
  • Americas: How is idled chlorine capacity on the U.S. Gulf Coast affecting the market? Which chlorine derivatives are holding up best, which are struggling? And when might demand recover overall?


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Lauren: You're listening to a "Chemical Conversations" podcast. I'm Lauren Williamson, VP for Commercial Product for Argus Chemicals. Today, we're diving into the chlorine markets. It's a good time to explore this commodity because Argus has just launched its Chlorine Analytics service, which includes a 10-year forecast for both global fundamentals and price data. It's also a good time for discussion because there are some key swing factors affecting the chlorine space, which ultimately require expertise to really understand.

In today's discussion, we are featuring our chlor-alkali experts at Argus, Stephanie Koenig in Europe, Bernard Law in Asia, and George Eisenhauer in the Americas.

Stephanie, the European chlor-alkali industry has been in a downturn for some time. Are there any signs that a recovery is imminent?

Stephanie: You're right. We've been in a downturn for about 18 months. It's a significant one. It's a long one. We've seen chlorine demand contract by at least 20%. There are no signs that a recovery is imminent, but we are cautiously optimistic about next year. So, for once, we believe that the demand has finally bottomed out and that apart from maybe some seasonal changes to chlorine demand, especially during winter, we won't see any further erosion.

There are also slightly encouraging signs coming from the economic side of things. We see inflation being brought under control across the major European economies. The European Central Bank has just left interest rates stable. And even though we don't know if that's it or if further intervention is needed, it's certainly going in the right direction. I believe we do need these signs that costs are under control, taking up credit will be a lot cheaper, and customers and investors need that kind of confidence to start spending again. So, while we believe that recovery is not going to start early in 2024, we believe we could see the beginning of it next year.

Lauren: Maybe we could turn this to a longer-term view now. If you could think about the next 5 to 10 years, what are the opportunities and challenges you see for chlorine in Europe during that time period?

Stephanie: Chlorine is a difficult market. Unfortunately, I would say we probably see more challenges than opportunities. So, we are quite a mature industry here in Europe. There's no real new end-use emerging that could drive industry growth or help shape the industry in the future. So, we see quite a few challenges in stats, and they always come down to the same thing, which is costs. Europe is a high cost producing region. That's not going to go away. And we will see the additional cost burden that comes with the transition to net-zero and investments that will be required at each and every company to meet sustainability targets.

That raises the question whether chlorine demand will fully recover from the current low or whether we will perhaps start to see some industry consolidation. Whether perhaps some companies along the supply chain may not survive the current downturn or may not have the financial means to invest or remain competitive in the global market. We are slightly more positive when we look at the other side of the ECU (Electrochemical Unit), or the caustic soda side. We have the same cost issues. Again, they're not going to go away. If anything, they will be compounded by the transition to net-zero, but at least we do have new demand in the battery materials. And looking at chlor-alkali, chlorine, and caustic soda together, it actually raises the question for us, are we going to be okay in terms of caustic soda supply to meet demand, and therefore, in terms of chlorine output, or are we going to face challenges? Is chlorine going to bring challenges for the other side of the ECU in terms of supplies?

Lauren: Bernard, the global economy is facing a huge risk of recession. We're seeing a lot of concern around the eurozone, a lot of challenges in China, and of course, the global economy is very interconnected. So, with this darkened economic outlook, how do you see the chlorine and chlorinated derivative market in Asia performing during this time?

Bernard: Let's look at the chlorine and chlorinated market in Asia. It is rather complex as you look at it. Asia is such a big continent, and we cannot simply draw a simple sentence to summarize it. I would like to look at this region by region. First and foremost, I would like to take a look at the chlorine and the caustic cycle. And generally, in the cycle, the demand growth normally tracks the GDP performance. However, the chlorine demand growth appears to be more sensitive to GDP fluctuation. And what it means here is whenever there's GDP changes, recession or growth, a steady growth, you can see how the chlorine will react. It will be more sensitive, it will react to the growth, to the growth in demand. But on the caustic soda side, the demand growth is pretty much related to manufacturing, it is less sensitive, and normally, it reacts slower to the GDP fluctuation.

Based on these fundamental principles in the chlorine and the caustic cycle, let's look at Northeast Asia first. Northeast Asia is Asia's largest supply base, as well as the largest consumption base. And as a rule of thumb, one-third of chlorine will go into vinyl, two-thirds will go into various downstream, such as MDI (methylene diisocyanate), TDI (toluene diisocyanate), propylene oxide, inorganic chemicals, intermediates, and so on. In a depressed market, like we are seeing today, the impact on vinyl is more evident. And we can see the PVC price has been coming down for the last several months, and it fell pretty sharply. And we expect the vinyl market to remain soft in the near term. Whereas the impact on other downstream markets, the non-vinyl downstream, is severe, but it is not as bad as in vinyl.

We’ve just got to look at the regions outside China - Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. Chlorine forms one of the major parts of the downstream market. Vinyl forms a major part of the downstream market, 30-40% of chlorine goes into the vinyl, in the region itself, and they export a very sizable amount, up to 50% in fact, of their PVC, of their vinyl, especially the PVC, out of the country to balance the chlor-alkali chain. But in China itself about 30% of chlorine goes into vinyl. China has a huge chlorine consumption base and can balance itself. Only a very small percentage of maybe 5-10% of PVC is being exported. That means they are bringing the chlorine out of the market to balance the chlor-alkali chain.

The next region to look at is Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is fragmented, but there are two main countries, Thailand and Indonesia. These two countries have a very high percentage of chlorine going into vinyl. And they have a big domestic market. At the same time, they also export quite a bit of the caustic into neighboring countries and India. The rest of the chlorine is going to very simple derivatives like hydrochloric acid, water treatment, and sodium hypochlorite. These are the simpler version of the derivatives. And in Southeast Asia, you don't have those MDI, TDI downstream industries.

Next is the Middle East. It is a pretty straightforward chlorine market. 40% of the chlorine goes into vinyl and the rest into the oil and gas industry. They produce a lot of chlorine that goes into the production of hydrochloric acid to be used in oil drilling. And some of the chlorine will go into calcium chloride to use in the drilling process as well.

The last region to look at is India. It has a very fragmented chlorine downstream market, and only about eight percent of chlorine goes into vinyl, and the rest is very fragmented. It goes into paraffins, they go into intermediates, the chemical intermediates, the water treatment, and they produce a lot of hydrochloric acid, some for export, and so on. The chlorine value in India itself always falls into a negative. Currently chlorine in India is about negative 3,000 to 5,000 rupees per ton ex-tanks, depending on customer size and depending on consumption, and so on. It's holding in negative territory for a long time.

Lauren: George, since September of this year, we've seen a lot of chlorine capacity idled on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Can you tell us how that's affecting the market right now?

George: We've seen several plants on the U.S. Gulf Coast idled, mainly by Olin, one in Freeport and one plant in St. Gabriel. Argus estimates the capacity of those two plants, somewhere around a million tons of capacity or roughly eight percent of the U.S. market. Part of this is attempting to reduce the overcapacity in the marketplace in the U.S. So we've seen a significant decline in operating rates. If you look at operating rates in October, they were maybe in the low 60s, according to our estimates. This is down maybe 20% from earlier in the year. So, we've had a significant decline in chlorine demand in the domestic market. A lot of it has to do with the slowing economies globally, and part of it also has to do with the fact that, if you look at the U.S. Gulf Coast, or it's not just Gulf Coast, but the U.S. economy slowing from an almost 5% growth rate in Q3 to maybe a 1% growth rate in Q4, so a significant decline in growth.

And when that happens, chlorine demand typically does decline as well. A lot of it has to do with the fact that the domestic U.S. market has been slowing. We've seen that reduced capacity; reduced demand is playing out in potentially lower pricing for chlorine. We've seen chlorine prices decline for most of this year. And with these assets being idled, potentially, this is going to support a stabilization of chlorine pricing in the market. We haven't really seen any significant movement in chlorine in the last month or so, but there is potential that the prices will stabilize, if not, maybe return and start to move higher as prices or as demand recovers.

Lauren: And of course, the idling capacity is often due to weak demand. Can you talk about which chlorine derivatives are currently holding up best, which are struggling? And when do you think demand might recover overall?

George: Looking at the chlorine market, the most resilient chlorine demand in the marketplace right now is in the vinyls industry, which, to a certain degree, is a little bit surprising because the domestic U.S. housing market has been so weak in the last couple of months and maybe the entire year. A lot of that has to do with high-interest rates for mortgage notes and people not buying houses as readily as they used to or did last year.

But the interesting thing about the PVC market is the U.S. Gulf Coast has an ethylene advantage, has an energy advantage, and can move that chlorine into PVC at a competitive rate on a global basis. So, from that perspective, even though the domestic U.S. PVC market might be weak, we're able to be competitive on the export market, and that is supporting PVC operating rates in the U.S.

Other industries are again struggling. A lot of them have to do with the building industry. So again, the high-interest rates are reducing demand for housing, and a lot of times, when you're dealing with housing, you're dealing with demand for TiO2 (titanium dioxide) pigments for your paint, for example. A lot of the TiO2 operators' plants are running at relatively low operating rates. We're estimating around mid-60% operating rate level.

There are some other chlorine derivatives that may be weaker, but they're a much smaller piece of the pie. So, some of your products like MDI/TDI are also running at low rates. In the last couple of months, we've seen TDI or MDI operating rates in the mid-50s. These are, again, signs of weakness in the domestic U.S. economy and weakness for demand for chlorine.

As far as an outlook, as far as when chlorine demand might be recovering, that's anybody's guess to a certain degree, because we look at the economy, and right now we're seeing a slowing economy. And if the economy is slowing, not only in the U.S. but globally, that tends to decline or reduce demand for chlorine. And really and truly, not until the economies on a global basis start to recover from the slowdown period will chlorine demand start to recover.

Lauren: That's all we have time for on this podcast. Thank you for listening. If you'd like more information, please visit

This podcast is delivered by Argus’ chlor-alkali experts using data and insight from 

Argus Chlorine Analytics.

Request a free trial or more information