LyondellBasell Industries Earnings Call Insights: North American Ethylene Units and Ethylene Operating Rates

LyondellBasell Industries (NYSE:LYB) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

North American Ethylene Units

Jeffrey Zekauskas – JPMorgan: Sort of a two-part question. You’ve been running your North American ethylene units closed to 100% for three quarters now, does that place undue stress on your assets or is that a new normal? Then the second question is, you mentioned in your prepared comments that you would lighten to your crude slated your Houston refinery. Can you be a little bit more explicit as to how much you’ve lightened it?

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James L. Gallogly – CEO: Yes, Jeff. First on the question of ethylene production and our U.S. operations we’ve actually operated above nameplate in the last three quarters. We are cracking a later slate that improves our ethylene yield. It’s a little higher furnace temperatures and also, but we don’t expect that to have a long-term impact. We already normally do our de-coking operations and things are pretty typical. So, that’s very, very unusual. I think exemplary performance by our people and I couldn’t be prouder of that kind of a record. I haven’t seen that for a long time in our industry and I personally think we are showing very differential performance in our ethylene operations at a time when margins are great. In terms of our crude slate at the Houston refinery we just came out of that turnaround, one of the reasons that we’re working on the crude unit for a couple of months is we basically re-plumbed it so that we could take some of the lighter crudes. I think depending upon how we blend and all we could probably run above 20% light type crudes, but there’s a lot of factors that go into how we operate blending rates and all of that. But I think that’s a reasonable rule of thumb.

Ethylene Operating Rates

Robert Koort – Goldman Sachs: Jim I was just curious, and sensing from some investors that my interest about the cadence of operating rates globally for ethylene. I think in your guidance model you are something like 3.5% to 4% over the next several years. Do you think there is any need to revise that given the lethargic global economy at the moment?

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James L. Gallogly – CEO: Well right now we are running obviously better than 100% in the United States and every pound we make we have been able to sell. So we see no reason to think differently about that. In terms of our global operating rates we have been operating in the mid-80% range. Remember that we are structurally a bit short in Europe and so we can differentially run our assets a bit harder depending upon which one of the (parts) we are in so to speak within the geographies there in Europe. But I don’t a reason to change anything at this point in time. Market conditions in Europe are reasonably stressed as we indicated and Asia has been reasonably flat for a bit. So we hope that there’s some upside at some point in time but that will depend on the economy.

A Closer Look: LyondellBasell Industries Earnings Cheat Sheet>>