26 Lotte Chemical
Lotte was known as Honam Petrochemical until a series of acquisitions that culminated in a name change in 2012. By any name, the South Korean firm was rather obscure in the U.S. until last year when it announced that it would partner with Axiall on an ethylene cracker in Louisiana. Lotte also plans an ethylene glycol plant downstream from the unit. However, the ethylene project has been delayed because of low oil prices.
27 Chevron Phillips Chemical
In 2011, Chevron Phillips was the first company in more than a decade to announce a new U.S. ethylene cracker. Since then, about a dozen firms have followed suit, and a few plants are already under construction, including Chevron Phillips’s. Big projects may be a core competency for the company. Chevron Phillips participated in the Middle Eastern petrochemical building boom a decade ago with the establishment of joint ventures in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Quick quiz: Name a chemical company being targeted by activist investor Daniel S. Loeb. If you guessed Dow Chemical, you would be correct. And if you said DSM, you would also be correct. Loeb’s firm has been prodding the Dutch chemical maker to focus on nutritional ingredients. In that direction, DSM is putting its polymer intermediates and composite resins businesses into a joint venture run by the investment firm CVC Capital Partners. However, DSM hasn’t charted as bold a course as Loeb might like. It continues to hold onto its engineering polymers business.
Fractioning the atmosphere has its advantages. The strong margins of the industrial gas business have been the envy of others in the chemical industry for more than a decade. And among industrial gas makers, Praxair is a standout. At 31.8%, its operating profit margin is nearly double that of its closest rival, number 38 Air Products & Chemicals. It also exceeds those of Air Liquide, 15th, and Linde, 17th.
30 SK Innovation
One of South Korea’s leading chemical makers, the company boasts metallocene polymer technology that is the focus of a joint venture it is forming with Saudi Basic Industries Corp. The partnership will include a polyethylene plant already running in Ulsan, South Korea, and possibly another plant to be built in Saudi Arabia.
31 Shin-Etsu Chemical
The Japanese chemical maker has unveiled many capital projects over the past year. Its U.S. polyvinyl chloride subsidiary, Shintech, is moving ahead with plans to build a $1.4 billion ethylene cracker in Louisiana by 2018. The company also has been expanding capacity for vinyl chloride and polyvinyl chloride at its plant in Plaquemine, La. Closer to home, Shin-Etsu is plunking down more than $100 million apiece on projects to expand photoresists in Taiwan and silicones in Thailand.
32 Huntsman Corp.
Huntsman shareholders were so worried about the drop in oil prices late last year that CEO Peter R. Huntsman felt compelled to issue a statement promising that the development is a good thing. The company, he said, would benefit from lower feedstock costs and higher consumer spending. And, indeed, it managed to post solid gains in 2014, with profits climbing more than 17%. Last year, Huntsman bought Rockwood Holdings’ titanium dioxide unit. Now it is combining Rockwood with its own pigments business in preparation for a spin-off.
Syngenta has rejected, twice, a $45 billion takeover offer from rival Monsanto. Monsanto is doing everything it can to capture the Swiss crop protection and seeds firm. It is offering to relocate to the U.K. and to sweeten the deal with a $2 billion breakup fee, which Syngenta could pocket should regulators nix the transaction. Monsanto hasn’t raised the offer, though, and Syngenta claims the price doesn’t reflect the potential of its agrochemical pipeline.
Like Ineos, Borealis plans to use ethane extracted from U.S. shale to resuscitate a European petrochemical plant. Next year, its site in Stenungsund, Sweden, will begin receiving ethane deliveries. In preparation, Borealis is installing an import terminal and performing other upgrades at the plant. The company, known mostly as a polyolefins maker, also has been growing its fertilizer business. For example, along with Agrifos Partners, the company is studying a U.S. fertilizer project.
Lanxess recorded a modest increase in operating profits and a small decline in sales in 2014, but the 2005 spin-off from Bayer believes it can do better. Early last year, the firm parted with its longtime CEO, Axel C. Heitmann. Then late in the year, it launched a restructuring program that will cut 1,000 of its 16,000 employees. The program could eventually entail finding partners for its rubber business.
36 Asahi Kasei
The Japanese chemical maker is taking a big plunge into battery materials with its $2.2 billion purchase of Polypore’s business of making microporous membranes used in lithium-ion batteries. However, one stock analyst, Jefferies’ Yoshihiro Azuma, complained that Asahi is overpaying by $600 million and that the prospects for electric cars is underwhelming. Separately, the company is rolling out a nonphosgene route to polycarbonate that makes the intermediate dialkyl carbonate from carbon dioxide and an alcohol. The company says it wants to expand the use of the greenhouse gas as an industrial feedstock.
Sasol broke ground on an $8.1 billion ethylene cracker and derivatives complex in Westlake, La., earlier this year. The price came in nearly $4 billion more than originally envisaged. Executives at the South African firm blamed the “heated labor market.” Many big petrochemical projects, after all, are going up simultaneously on the Gulf Coast. Significantly, Sasol has delayed the go-ahead on a $14 billion gas-to-liquids facility it had been mulling. Lower oil prices make turning natural gas into liquid fuels less profitable.
38 Air Products & Chemicals
Like DuPont, Dow Chemical, and DSM, Air Products has been targeted by an activist investor, in its case Pershing Square Capital Management, which is led by William A. Ackman. Air Products responded last year by ousting longtime CEO John E. McGlade and replacing him with Seifi Ghasemi, former head of Rockwood Specialties. Ghasemi has moved quickly. He is cutting 500 jobs at the company. He also hinted that he may divest chemical businesses should they underperform industrial gases. In April, Ghasemi unveiled a project to create what he called the world’s largest industrial gas facility: a $2.1 billion plant in Saudi Arabia.
39 Eastman Chemical
The Kingsport, Tenn., chemical maker added a new leg to its chemistry stool last year with the purchase of Taminco for $2.8 billion. The purchase added capability in alkylamines and their derivatives to Eastman’s competencies in acetyl, polyester, and oxo chemistry. Taminco will also bring Eastman more sales in food, feed, and agriculture. In those markets, Taminco has about $700 million in annual sales to Eastman’s $300 million. It hasn’t been long since Eastman’s last major acquisition: The firm bought specialty chemical maker Solutia for $4.8 billion in 2012.
40 PTT Global Chemical
The Thai chemical maker is planning a project in a most American of places: Belmont, Ohio, where it wants to build a 1 million-ton-per-year shale-gas-based ethylene cracker with Japan’s Marubeni. Although far from the chemical hustle and bustle of the U.S. Gulf Coast, the region could get three ethylene projects if Braskem’s plant in West Virginia and Shell’s in Pennsylvania also get off the ground. PPT’s other strategic initiative, building a biobased chemical empire, stands in sharp contrast to a big U.S. petrochemical plant. Among its U.S. holdings are a 50% stake in NatureWorks and a majority interest in Myriant.
Last year, Mosaic closed on its $1.4 billion purchase of CF Industries’ phosphate mining operations. The mine in Hardee County, Fla., will allow Mosaic to forgo some $1.4 billion in expansions that it had been contemplating. Sales at Mosaic fell by about 9% last year because of slumping potash prices. The slump drove rival PotashCorp off of C&EN’s Global Top 50 ranking entirely.
In 2013, the Japanese company, formerly known as Dainippon Ink & Chemicals, launched a program, dubbed DIC 105, meant to restructure its printing inks business in North America and Europe and expand its “next generation” businesses, such as gas-barrier materials and cellulose nanofibers. The company, which runs U.S. pigments maker Sun Chemical, is seeing strong gains. Its sales improved by 17% in 2014, and profits rose by 7%.
Only half over, 2015 has been an enormous year for Arkema. The French specialty chemical maker closed its $2.2 billion purchase of the adhesive maker Bostik from its former parent Total. The company also has been investing heavily in organic growth. It recently opened a $225 million thiochemicals plant in Malaysia. It unveiled plans to make the engineering plastic polyether ketone ketone in Mobile, Ala. And earlier this month, it announced it would invest almost $70 million to double its capacity for making molecular sieves in Honfleur, France.
The Japanese chemical maker saw a huge spike in profits, 24%, in its last fiscal year. CEO Kenichi Udagawa credited external factors, such as a decline in oil prices and the weakening yen, for the increase. Looking ahead, Udagawa hopes to improve the efficiency of Tosoh’s petrochemical operations while leveling financial volatility by expanding in specialty chemicals.
45 Hanwha Chemical
The growing South Korean diversified chemical firm was rocked by tragedy earlier this month when six contract workers died in an explosion at its polyvinyl chloride plant in Ulsan, South Korea. The explosion remains under investigation. In the meantime, the plant will remain idle. The company also has operations outside of chemicals, such as biopharmaceuticals.
46 Siam Cement
It is probably appropriate that Siam Cement joined the Global Top 50 in 2015: The Thai firm is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It attributes its 18% increase in chemical sales last year to the global economic recovery, which has brought steady growth in its home turf of Asia.
The Thai company was a rather obscure regional polyester maker until a string of audacious acquisitions and capital projects turned it into a global giant. For instance, the company entered the U.S. market in 2003 when it purchased a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plant in Asheboro, N.C. It grew by building a plant in Decatur, Ala., in 2009 and by buying Invista’s North American PET business in 2011. In March, it agreed to purchase a Cepsa plant in Montreal that makes the PET raw material purified terephthalic acid.
BP was a much larger chemical company before it sold its Innovene olefins and derivatives business to Ineos a decade ago. But the company retained one of the world’s largest acetic acid businesses as well as its purified terephthalic acid (PTA) franchise. BP bought out its partners in an Indonesian PTA joint venture last year.
Once known as an institutional and industrial cleaning firm, the St. Paul company became a bigger player in chemicals in 2011 with its purchase of Nalco. To that acquisition the company bolted on Champion Technologies in 2013 in a $2.2 billion deal. A shale gas play, Champion bolstered Ecolab’s business in services for the oil and gas industry.
50 Johnson Matthey
The final entry in this year’s Global Top 50 is involved in a deal with direct consequence for many C&EN readers. It is selling its Alfa Aesar laboratory chemicals business to Thermo Fisher Scientific. The sale is part of an effort by Johnson Matthey to place more emphasis on its catalyst business. For instance, the British company sold its gold and silver refining operation to Asahi Holdings.