Saudi’s Sabic returns to black in 3Q as demand revives

The Saudi chemicals maker says it benefitted from a rebounding world economy, but remained cautious on the outlook

DUBAI • Saudi Basic Industries Corp, the chemical maker in which Saudi Aramco holds a majority stake, returned to profit in the third quarter (3Q) amid signs that demand is recovering from the impact of the coronavirus.

The company, known as Sabic, said 3Q profit was 1.09 billion riyals (RM1.22 billion) compared to 740 million riyals in the same period last year. Profit rose mainly due to the reversal of 690 million riyals of impairments associated with Clariant AG, in which Sabic holds a 31.5% stake. Revenue in the three months to the end of September fell 11% to 29.3 billion riyals.

Sabic said it benefitted from a rebounding world economy, but remained cautious on the outlook. Petrochemicals prices have picked up due to higher crude prices and stronger demand after the initial wave of virus-related lockdowns in the 2Q, CEO Yousef Al-Benyan said in an online briefing. “Still, it’s not clear yet on the impact of the second wave, and we are assessing the impacts of this on the global economy,” he said.

The results indicate that Sabic is turning a corner after reporting its biggest quarterly loss in at least a decade between April and June, as the pandemic hit sales of plastics, cosmetics and other petrochemical products. A writedown in the value of some assets also hurt 2Q profit, and that followed the company’s decision in May to suspend new capital expenditure to protect its balance sheet.

Earlier this month, Sabic announced the scaling back of a planned US$20 billion (RM84 billion) facility to convert crude directly into chemicals, a sign that efforts to cut costs amid weaker demand for chemicals are affecting investment. Sabic is developing the Yanbu project on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast together with Aramco.

“Even without Covid-19 impact, supply still exceeds demand for our key products, which will continue to pressure product prices and margins for the foreseeable future,” the company said in a statement.

Shares in the company fell as much as 1.4% in Riyadh yesterday, trimming gains this month to 9%. Sabic was the biggest drag to the Tadawul All Share Index, which was down 0.6%. The shares have lost about a quarter of their value since Aramco announced it planned to acquire a stake in Sabic in July 2018.

Aramco took control of Sabic earlier this year, buying a 70% stake from the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund for US$69 billion. The deal was part of the state energy firm’s plan to expand its downstream business and diversify from oil into higher-value chemicals.

Aramco and Sabic have yet to announce details of potential cost savings from working together. Al-Benyan, who heads a committee to identify such savings, said the companies would announce next year the “value of those synergies and the areas where we could see higher value creation between both organisations”. — Bloomberg