The chemical industry, which touches 96 percent of all manufactured goods, is seeing some positive signs for 2012, although the overall outlook is not very rosy. Growing demand for chemicals used in agriculture, electronics, cars and airplanes will boost an industry that generates $674 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, but expiring patents and global economic woes will take a toll. These forecasts and others are in the cover story in the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
C&EN points to positive developments for some chemical manufacturers, like Boeing ramping up production of its Dreamliner planes, a boon for makers of high-tech glues and carbon fiber. The article explains U.S. chemical firms will be more competitive globally due to low prices of natural gas and other raw materials and good opportunities for exports. Petrochemical producers are looking past 2012, according to the article, and several companies plan to build new manufacturing plants to take advantage of the growing supply of natural gas in the U.S.
At the same time, the pharmaceutical industry is facing the challenge of expiring patents on some of its most popular drugs, which will allow generic manufacturers to grab profits from big-name companies like AstraZeneca. The story also predicts slowing growth in Asia will hurt a number of chemical industries, especially makers of paint and other construction materials. For chemical makers, the article says, “2012 is likely to be a year to endure rather than enjoy.”