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Blog Home   |   Economic Trends


Blog Home   |   Economic Trends

Weekly Chemistry and Economic Trends (June 12, 2020)

3.5 points4.4%18.2%
Small Business OptimismChemical Railcar LoadingsChemical Wholesale Trade


Running tab of macro indicators: 4 out of

Macro Table

The number of new jobless claims fell by 355,000 to 1.54 million in the week ending 6 June. This was largely in line with expectations. Continuing claims were 20.9 million and the advance unemployment rate for the week was 14.4%, down slightly from last week.

Samll Business Optimisim

The NFIB reported that its index of small business optimism increased 3.5 points in May to 94.4, a welcome improvement from April’s 90.9 reading. Eight of the 10 index components improved in May and two declined. The NFIB Uncertainty Index increased seven points to 82. Reports of expected business conditions in the next six months increased 5 points to a net 34%, following a 24-point increase in April. Owners are more optimistic about future business conditions and expect the recession to be short-lived.

Inflation and Interest Rate

Producer prices surprised to the upside in May, rising 0.4%, following declines the previous three months. Higher prices for foods (esp. meats) and energy led the gains and core producer prices were flat. In fact, the index for final demand goods rose 1.6%, the largest increase since the index began in November 2009. Prices for final demand services edged lower. Compared to a year ago, producer prices were off 0.8% while core prices were off 0.4% Y/Y. Consumer prices declined 0.1% percent in May after falling 0.8% in April. Declines in prices for motor vehicle insurance, airfares, used vehicles, gasoline and other energy, and apparel more than offset increases in food, shelter, recreation, medical care, household furnishings and operations, and new vehicles. Prices excluding food and energy (or core consumer prices) fell 0.1% in May, marking the first time this core measure has ever declined for three consecutive months. Over the last 12 months, consumer prices were up 0.1% Y/Y. Following three months of declines, import prices rose 1.0% in May on higher prices for imported fuels. Prices for nonfuel imports edged higher by 0.1%. Export prices also rose, by 0.5% as higher prices for non-agricultural exports offset lower agricultural export prices. Compared to a year ago, overall import prices were lower by 6.0%.

With the historic disruption brought on by the pandemic, households reigned in their use of borrowing. Consumer debt fell by 1.6% in April, the fastest decline since 1943, a record decline in credit card balances and a decline in non-revolving debt. Compared to a year ago, consumer debt was up 1.4%.

Wholesale trade plunged 16.9% in April, following a 5.1% decline in March. Sales were down in every single category (most by double digits), with the largest declines in automotive, furniture, apparel, petroleum, furniture, and metals. Inventories, however, edged higher by 0.3% following a 1.1% decline in March. Compared to a year ago, sales were off 20.7% while inventories were off 2.8% Y/Y. Reflecting the speed at which sales fell, the inventories-to-sales ratio jumped from 1.36 in March to 1.65 in April, a record high. At the height of the last recession, the ratio reached 1.41 in January 2009.



The rig count continued to collapse during the week ending 5 June, falling by another 17 rigs to 282. During the earlier part of the week oil prices continued to gain as demand increased amid curtailments in supply but signs of a rise (or fears of a second wave) of Covid-19 cases fostered a pull-back yesterday.


For the business of chemistry, the indicators still bring to mind a red banner for basic and specialty chemicals.

Chemical Table

According to data released by the Association of American Railroads, chemical railcar loadings, the best ‘real time’ indicator of chemical industry activity, rose by 1,118 to 27,902 railcars during the week ending 6 June (week 23). Loadings were up 4.4% compared to the same week in 2019 and down 4.0% YTD/YTD. Loadings have been on the rise for 5 of the last 13 weeks. The 13-week moving average, which is used to smooth out volatility, was down 9.0% compared to last year.

Chemical Railcar Loadings

Producer prices for chemicals fell 1.6% in May, extending the decline in the prior month, with virtually every segment except for agricultural chemicals showing weakness. At the same time, feedstock prices rose. Compared to a year ago, chemical producer prices were off 5.9%. Chemical import prices fell for a third straight month in May, off 1.5%. Prices for chemical exports were also weaker, down 0.9%. Compared to a year ago, import prices were down 7.9% while export prices were off 7.0% Y/Y.

Chemical Supply

Wholesale trade in chemicals fell by 18.2% in April, following a 0.8% gain in March. Inventories, however, rose by 1.8%. Compared to a year ago, sales at the wholesale level were off 21.1% while inventories were off by only 7.5% Y/Y, a widening imbalance. The inventories-to-sales ratio jumped from 1.14 in March to 1.42 in April, a record. At the height of the last recession, the ratio was 1.28 in March 2009.

For More Information

ACC members can access additional data, economic analyses, presentations, outlooks, and weekly economic updates through MemberExchange.

In addition to this weekly report, ACC offers numerous other economic data that cover worldwide production, trade, shipments, inventories, price indices, energy, employment, investment, R&D, EH&S, financial performance measures, macroeconomic data, plus much more. To order, visit

Every effort has been made in the preparation of this weekly report to provide the best available information and analysis. However, neither the American Chemistry Council, nor any of its employees, agents or other assigns makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any liability or responsibility for any use, or the results of such use, of any information or data disclosed in this material.

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Upcoming Events of Interest

“Freight Transportation and COVID”
Luisa Fernandez-Willey (Association of American Railroads) and Bob Costello (American Trucking Association)
18 June 2020, 12:00 – 1:00 PM
National Economists Club
June 18, 12-1pm

The 13th ICIS World Chemical Purchasing Conference
10-11 September 2020
Hyatt Boston Harbor
Boston, MA

The 10th ICIS World Surfactants Conference
16-18 September 2020
Hyatt Regency
New Jersey, NJ

ADI Chemical Market Resources
22 September 2020 (rescheduled from April 14)
Houston, TX

Note On the Color Codes

The banner colors represent observations about the current conditions in the overall economy and the business chemistry. For the overall economy we keep a running tab of 20 indicators. The banner color for the macroeconomic section is determined as follows:

Green – 13 or more positives
Yellow – between 8 and 12 positives
Red – 7 or fewer positives

For the chemical industry there are fewer indicators available. As a result we rely upon judgment whether production in the industry (defined as chemicals excluding pharmaceuticals) has increased or decreased three consecutive months.

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