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Should You Adjust Chemical Exposure In Your Portfolio?

Most diversified index-based materials products have significant exposure to the chemicals industry, though the weightings can be different. For example, chemicals comprised approximately 70% of the S&P 500 Materials Index as of late June. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 Equal Weight Materials index had a 54% weighting in chemicals, with more exposure in containers & packaging companies. As such we think investors need to understand what drives the industry.

S&P Capital IQ thinks cost saving efforts can spur the chemicals industry to higher earnings per share (EPS) growth levels in 2016, after expected growth of less than 10% in 2015. We see industry revenues growing slightly and at a slower pace over the next few years. Our profit and revenue growth forecasts are tied to the likelihood of a steadily improving US macroeconomic environment, mostly offset by a stronger US dollar, significantly lower oil prices, and slowing economic growth in China.

The chemicals industry is comprised of five sub-industries: specialty chemicals, diversified chemicals, fertilizer & agricultural chemicals, industrial gases, and commodity chemicals.

According to S&P Capital IQ equity analyst Christopher Muir, revenues of specialty chemicals companies are mostly influenced by volumes, while commodity chemicals companies face significant threats to revenue per share from changes in commodity prices for their products or raw materials. For fertilizer & agricultural chemicals companies, prices of the products will likely affect fertilizer revenue per share, while agricultural chemicals, including specialty seeds, are more-specialized products, which are driven by volumes. Industrial gas companies are likely to see a mix of volumes and prices driving revenues.

In the fourth quarter of 2014 and first quarter of 2015, a rise in the value of the dollar versus other currencies had a negative effect on revenue per share, but a fall in the dollar index would be a positive in the second half of 2015 and in 2016. Specialty chemicals companies and divisions spend money and time developing new products. In most cases, Muir noted these new products are highly specialized to suit the end user, and as a result are often sold at much higher margins than their less specialized counterparts are, helping operating margin.

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