By Patrick Raleigh, UT On-line/news editor/Houston, Texas-Lyondell Chemical Co.'s Intermediate Chemicals & Derivatives (IC&D) segment reported an operating loss of $1 million in 2003, compared to a profit of $174 million the previous year. The fall was despite a 16.5-percent sales rise to $3801 million. The group linked the decline to its MTBE business, rather than its urethane chemical activities, where earnings grew in 2003. IC&D produces propylene oxide (PO), PO derivatives and TDI (toluene diisocyanate) for the PU industry, as well as MTBE fuel additives and styrene monomer. During 2003, price and volume increases for PO and PO derivatives more than offset higher raw material and energy costs, said Lyondell. TDI results, however, "fell somewhat short of 2002 performance," it added. The gains include a fourth quarter improvement in PO and PO derivatives earnings, based on stronger margins and 10 percent higher volumes than in the prior year period, the group said. For 2003 as a whole, Lyondell reported an 8.6-percent rise in combined PO, PO derivatives and isocyanates volumes to 1491 kilotonnes.Assessing Lyondell's prospects for 2004, Lyondell president and CEO Dan Smith said "The improving economy and the impact of our new propylene oxide plant in Europe should lead to improved performance for 2004." However, Smith added that, "external factors such as economic growth and raw materials prices will continue to be leveraging factors to our financial performance." "