Weakness in 2015 was centered in oilfield chemicals and a few other segments that, combined, weighed on overall volumes. Of 28 specialty chemical segments monitored, only 10 expanded in January, with none experiencing large gains (1.0 percent and over) in market volumes.
The overall specialty chemicals volume index was off 2.7 percent year-over-year (Y/Y) also on a 3MMA basis. Year-earlier comparisons were generally in the 4.0 percent to 6.8 percent range during 2012-2014, but since February they have fallen below that range as the downturn in the oil and gas sectors affected headline volumes. In addition, the strong U.S. dollar has adversely affected a number of export-oriented customer industries. Still, on a Y/Y basis, gains are fairly widespread among most market and functional specialty chemical segments. With few exceptions, however, year-earlier comparisons have been moderating.
Specialty chemicals differ from commodity chemicals. They may only have one or two uses, while commodities may have multiple or different applications for each chemical. Commodity chemicals make up most of the production volume in the global marketplace, while specialty chemicals make up most of the diversity in commerce at any given time, and are relatively high value with greater market growth rates. Some areas where specialty chemicals are used include adhesives, cleaning materials, cosmetic additives, construction materials, food additives, fragrances and detergents.
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