By Liz White, UT staffLudwigshafen, Germany-Part of BASF AG's good performance in the first quarter of this year was a 19 percent increase in sales in the Asia Pacific region (in local currency), due in particular to growth in demand for methylene diphenyl diisocyanate and polyurethane systems from the group's Polyurethanes division, according to BASF's results statement. During the quarter, the group's new plant for PolyTHF (polytetrahydrofuran) in Caojing, China, successfully started up, BASF said, adding that, in the second quarter, its THF plant will also start up. BASF's total first-quarter sales increased by 11 percent compared with the strong first quarter of 2004, to over €10 000 million ($12830 million), with the growth primarily due to price increases, the group said. Sales volumes were higher than in the first quarter of 2004, in particular in chemicals and plastics. Compared with Q1 of 2004, income from operations (EBIT) before special items climbed 33 percent to €1600 million. BASF pointed to a "significant improvement in margins and earnings," in chemicals and plastics, where capacity utilisation was high. First-quarter EBIT after special items rose 39 percent to €1.5 billion. And the German chemicals major remains optimistic about the outlook for 2005. In 2005, said Dr Jurgen Hambrecht, chairman of the Board of Executive Directors, he continues to expect global chemical production to grow by about 3 percent-albeit with wide regional variations.BASF's forecast for the average price of Brent crude oil has risen from $35 to $45 per barrel, while its forecast for the average euro/dollar exchange rate remains unchanged at $1.30 per euro."