President Carter, seeking to shore up his anti-inflation program, yesterday called in 30 executives of the nation's industrial chemicals industry and asked them to hold down their price increases even if it means lower profits.
In a brief session in the Roosevelt Room, Carter criticized the industry's recent price increases as "very high" and asked the executives who attended to "restrain your price increases below what you would have done otherwise."
However, White House officials said there were no firm commitments from any of the executives present, except to agree to name a five-member task force to hold further talks with administration inflation-fighters.
The session was one of a series Carter has been holding with various industry groups. The president already has met with leaders of the food, medical and beverage industries, and will meet with metal industry executives on April 24.
Industrial chemicals prices have risen sharply in recent months, soaring by 1.3 percent in March, 1.4 percent in February and 3.8 percent in January. Chemicals prices now stand 29.6 percent above a year ago.
Industry analysts say the bulk of the recent increases have reflected jumps in prices of crude oil and natural gas, which form the basic ingredient of many chemicals. Some chemicals' prices have risen more slowly than expected.
However, some administration inflation officials have suggested the industry may have been raising prices by more than merely what is needed to cover these increased costs, possibly because of fear of eventual wageprice controls.
Carter yesterday again reiterated his opposition to controls, and told the group that although some of the recent price increases could be attributed to higher oil costs, not all could.
Noting that the food and drug industries have agreed to slow their price increases, Carter asked the chemicals executives to "consider very seriously taking the same action" even though it "may result in some decrease in profits. . ."
Several of the nation's major supermarket chains, at the urging of White House consumer affairs adviser Esther Peterson, have agreed to continue for at least another 30 days the voluntary freeze on some prices they began in March.
A spokesman for Peterson's office said the freeze primarily involves so-called "house" brands and generic food items such as processed foods and soups and some hamburger and chicken as well.
At the same time, the spokesman said, "I'm sure they're making it up in other areas." Originally, 27 chains representing 7,018 outlets agreed to participate in the freeze. Peterson said 21 of the chains are continuing the effort.
Yesterday's session with the chemical industry executives included representatives of 25 separate producers, including several giant manufacturers such as Allied Chemical Corp., Texaco, DuPont, Dow Chemical Co. and American Cyanamid.
Allied president Richard C. Ashley told reporters later his own company's chemical unit "is already cooperating" with the government's anti-inflation effort and is "prepared to cooperate further in any realistic program."
After a 15-minute session with the president, the executives met separately with Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and White House anti-inflation czar Alfred E. Kahn.
Officials said the president did not say precisely how much the industry should restrain its price increases. Some economists question whether chemical firms can exercise much restraint as long as oil and natural gas prices are soaring.
Labor Department figures show the increase in crude oil prices at 0.3 percent in February, 9.1 percent in January and 4.5 percent in December, but the statistics usually lag a month or two. These increases actually occurred in earlier months.
The oil-exporting nations announced a sharp increase in crude oil prices in mid-December. Those boosts have accounted for a sizable portion of the speedup in inflation that has occurred since the start of this year.