WASHINGTON (June 21, 2021; ACC release) – U.S. specialty chemicals market volumes rose 0.7% in May and are now above the pre-winter storm levels of January, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Activity remains off from pre-pandemic levels. Of the 28 specialty chemical segments monitored, 20 expanded in May, up from 16 in April and three in February. Seven segments declined and one was flat. On a sequential basis, diffusion was 73% in May, up from 57% in April and 11% in February. During May, 10 segments showed gains of 1.0% or more.
During May, overall specialty chemicals volumes were up 13.7% on a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, rebounding from the depressed levels of last year. Rubber processing chemicals were especially affected by shutdowns in tire manufacturing. Total volumes stood at 99.0% of their average 2017 levels, equivalent to 7.26 billion pounds (3.29 million metric tons). On a year-earlier basis, 26 chemical segments expanded in May. Diffusion was 93% in May, off slightly from 96% in April.
Specialty chemicals are materials manufactured on the basis of their unique performance or function and provide a wide variety of effects on which many other sectors and end-use products rely. They may be individual molecules or mixtures of molecules, known as formulations. The physical and chemical characteristics of the single molecule or mixtures along with the composition of the mixtures influence the performance end product. Individual market sectors that rely on such products include automobile, aerospace, agriculture, cosmetics and food, among others.
Specialty chemicals differ from commodity chemicals. Specialties may only have one or two uses, whereas commodities may have multiple or different applications for each chemical. Commodity chemicals comprise 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.
This data set is the only timely source of market trends for 28 market and functional specialty chemical segments. Chemistry directly touches over 96% of all manufactured goods, and trends in these specialty chemical segments provide a detailed view of trends in manufacturing. The data also shed light on how various consumer end-use markets are performing compared with others.