One of the most stunning materials stories of 2007 has been the transfer of American plastics assets to oil powers in the Mideast. I’ve already written in detail about the acquisition of the iconic GE Plastics business by the Saudi Basic Industries Corp. Now comes Dow’s decision to sell half of key plastics businesses for $9.5 billion to the Kuwait Petroleum Corp. Covered were Dow’s ownership of these product groups: polyethylene, ethylenamines, ethanolamines, polypropylene, and polycarbonate. The assets will be owned by a company that will be established late next year in the United States. It will employ 5,000 people and generate about $11 billion in annual sales. Earlier this month, Dow announced plans to exit all non-automotive ABS business in the Americas. Dow divested other styrenics business and announced several other closings Dec. 4. "Today’s announcement reflects our commitment to prune businesses that are not delivering appropriate value and tackle tasks more efficiently across the entire organization … freeing up capital and resources that will be re- directed toward value-creating growth opportunities," said Andrew N. Liveris, Dow’s chairman and chief executive officer.
The moves by GE and Dow are not surprises. It may come as a surprise to users, but plastics assets have not yielded satisfactory returns on investment in recent years. GE’s corporate outlook is already looking better, and you can expect a healthier, trimmed-down Dow in 2008. It’s also not a surprise that Mideast oil powers are interested buyers of the more attractive assets. US-based properties are available at attractive prices because of the low value of the US dollar. Foreign economies are flush with dollars because of our ongoing trade deficit.
Is this bad news for the design engineering community? Decidedly not. GE Plastics made its public debut at K 2007 as Sabic Innovative Plastics. Key officials stayed on board and are talking enthusiastically about growth in several areas, including even photovoltaic cells. The plastics business had not been a favorable target as part of GE. Now it is. The Dow plastics business will benefit from an improved cost position with a significant Kuwait footprint.