Chemical supply chain remains under pressure despite some signs of stability

The Chemical Business Association (CBA), the voice of the chemical supply chain, has released results from the latest quarterly supply chain survey.

The most recent survey, which shows results from the first quarter of 2024, builds on the optimism seen in the final quarter of 2023, with 31% of respondents reporting improvements in their order books over the previous 3 months, more than double the same period last year, where only 15% of respondents said the same.

The encouraging trends continue, with 35% of respondents reporting improvements to current sales, an increase from 21% in the previous quarterly survey and also an increase from 15% for the same period in 2023.

Despite the positive trends, 26% of respondents expect future sales figures to worsen, an increase from 19% in Q4 2023. However, the latest figures show a 10% improvement on the 36% of respondents who expected worsening sales figures during the first quarter of 2023.

21% of respondents also reported better sales margins, compared to the previous three months, a rise from 13% at the conclusion of Q4. Fewer also reported worsening margins, with the majority of responses (60%), reporting current sales margins are holding steady. The trend continues when considering the coming three months, with 71% of respondents expecting margins to remain the same throughout Q2.

In addition to sales and order figures, the supply chain survey also provides an insight into industry employment. The latest report continues to show the majority of respondents expect employment numbers to remain the same over the coming months, with 81% confirming as much.

Whilst 13% of respondents do expect this to increase, it is down significantly since the same period in 2023, where 49% of respondents were expecting an increase. The comparison shows the importance of industry-wide employment outreach and skills initiatives that encourage long-term supply chain stability, of which the CBA is a driving force.

The survey also reports on logistics issues surrounding imports and exports, with the current survey showing little change from previous surveys, highlighted by the fact that current supply chain disruptions, such as the situation in the Red Sea, remain an issue for 68% of respondents. This, combined with 70% reporting escalating shipping costs, indicates there could be an increasingly difficult future for the supply chain and the industries that rely upon it.

Tim Doggett, Chemical Business Association’s CEO said: “Our latest survey highlights a degree of increasing optimism which was also apparent in the final quarter of 2023, and this is reflected in reports from the ONS that the economy grew by 0.6% in the first three months of the year. It does also however show there are continued challenges for business, and the survey alludes to potential concerns that may be around the corner, as well as ongoing supply chain pressures such as issues in the Red Sea.”

“These surveys continue to be enormously important to the CBA, as they provide ‘ear-to-the-ground’ information directly from members, who have to deal on a day-to-day basis with current and potential issues in the supply chain. Their insight not only allows us to focus our attention and expertise in supporting them, but also inform as well as lobby Government and peer associations on issues that affect them and wider industry as a whole.”

*The survey sample polled 48 members.