BASF temporarily closing 80 plants

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- Chemical company BASF SE said Wednesday it is temporarily closing 80 plants worldwide due to slumping demand and cutting production at 100 more, including facilities in Texas and Louisiana. Some 20,000 workers are affected.

It also abandoned its goal to match last year's profit, citing slowing demand for its products, particularly from automotive customers.

BASF shares plunged 13.7 percent to end at 21.96 euros ($27.67) in Frankfurt.

BASF spokesman Gareth Rees said the shutdowns and slowdown have already begun and will extend into January. Workers were being encouraged to take vacation time and reduce their overtime.

In a statement, the Ludwigshafen-based maker of everything from fertilizers and paints to glues and ingredients for cosmetics said it was trying to stem any overcapacity at its operations "as a result of a massive decline" in demand.

The measures will affect major plants in Freeport, Texas; Geismar, Louisiana; Ludwigshafen, Germany; Antwerp, Belgium; Nanjing, China; and Kuantan, Malaysia.

"BASF already drew attention to the difficult economic situation at the end of October," Chief Executive Juergen Hambrecht said in a statement. "Since then, customer demand in key markets has declined significantly. In particular, customers in the automotive industry have canceled orders at short notice."

Last year, the company's pretax profit was euro7.6 billion on sales of euro57.9 billion. For 2008, BASF said it doesn't expect to achieve that figure.

Hambrecht said "it was difficult to foresee how the coming year would develop and said that BASF was preparing for tough times."

The company saw its third-quarter earnings fall 38 percent to euro758 million ($959.1 million) from euro1.2 billion a year earlier.

In Ludwigshafen, it signed an agreement with its employee council to take advantage of flex time and vacation there, moves that will affect 5,000 workers.

"We are responding flexibly to market developments and are acting quickly," Hambrecht said. "BASF will now focus even more closely on cost and budget discipline, and will use opportunities arising from the crisis."

He said the moves would not affect its planned 6.1 billion Swiss franc (euro4 billion; $5 billion) acquisition of Switzerland's specialty chemicals firm Ciba, which it hopes to complete by the first quarter of 2009.

"We will also proceed swiftly with the planned acquisition and integration of Ciba to further optimize our business," Hambrecht said.


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