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Business conditions

General economic situation

There was little change in the global economic situation in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the end of 2011. The current focus is on the ongoing development of the Chinese economy, which expanded by approximately 8.4% in the first three months of 2012. The business climate in the United States continued to improve, with economic growth of 2.1%. The European economy, however, is still being held back by the debt crisis, with marked variations from one country to another.

The raw material markets were volatile in the first quarter, with varying price trends.

Chemical industry

The chemical industry continued to grow at the global level. In Europe, on the other hand, it contracted by 2.3% in the first quarter against the very strong prior-year period. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2011, however, the European chemical industry trended positive with growth of 1.5%. In North America, production was up 2.0% over the first quarter of last year. China increased production again, albeit at a lower rate of 6.1%.

Evolution of major user industries

World automobile production expanded by 2.3% in the first quarter. Europe and China showed negative growth of minus 6.0% and minus 2.6%, respectively. By contrast, production in North America rose 10.8%. The tire industry got off to a sluggish start in 2012. Production volume for original equipment tires was above the prior year, but business with replacement tires for both trucks and passenger cars was weaker in the first quarter. The trend in the European construction industry remained negative overall, with the countries affected by the debt crisis contributing to an uneven picture. The United States showed a positive growth trend again, albeit against a low baseline. The market for agrochemicals was stable in the first quarter.