By Marwa Rashad and Davide Barbuscia
RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) expects a slowdown in demand in 2020, CEO Yousef al-Benyan said on Wednesday, after the world's fourth-biggest petrochemicals maker reported a fourth-quarter loss.
SABIC's first quarterly loss in more than a decade, sparked by lower average selling prices and a writedown at an affiliate, sent its shares down 2% to 86.90 riyals in early trade.
SABIC fell to a net loss of 720 million riyals ($192 million) from a profit of 3.22 billion a year earlier.
The CEO said a slowdown in economic growth, particularly in China and Europe, had weighed on the petrochemicals industry.
"At the same time, there is additional capacity coming to the market, specifically from the U.S. and China," he said.
"This has really put pressure on product margins and slowed demand in certain markets, therefore we have seen a slowdown in the second half of 2019 and we anticipate that the market will be more or less the same in 2020."
Benyan said it was too early to assess the impact of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.
"We have already seen an extension on Chinese holidays, this by itself creates some impact and hopefully by the end of next week we'll have much better clarity, but I assume that as soon as this is over, demand will go back."
Yousef Husseini, an analyst at EFG Hermes, said: "In my view, first quarter 2020 is likely to be equally, if not more challenging than the fourth quarter from an operational perspective."
In the fourth quarter SABIC was impacted by a 2.8 billion riyal impairment provision at affiliate Arabian Industrial Fibers Co (Ibn Rushd). SABIC took 1.3 billion riyals in non-recurring charges, relating to its affiliate.
"SABIC will not exit Ibn Rushd and it will remain one of the main SABIC products in the local market," Benyan said.
Ibn Rushd's complex in Yanbu, on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast, produces products including aromatics and purified terephthalic acid (PTA) used in making polyester.
EU antitrust regulators are set to rule on Feb. 27 on Saudi Aramco's $69.1 billion acquisition of SABIC. Aramco agreed to buy a 70% stake in SABIC last year from sovereign investor Public Investment Fund.
($1 = 3.7511 riyals)
(Additional reporting Saeed Azhar; editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Jason Neely)