By: Frank Esposito
March 15, 2013
AKRON, OHIO -- February was a rocky month for North American commodity resin prices, with PVC prices up, polystyrene prices down and a price increase hitting some grades of polyethylene.
The PE increase is a 4-cent move on non-film grades — including injection molding, blow molding and rotomolding — of high density PE and rotomolding grades of linear low density PE.
Industry sources said the split occurred when makers of those grades pushed ahead with the increase after Nova Chemicals Corp. said in mid-February that a broader increase for all grades of PE had not been successful.
"The other producers basically said they were going to raise prices on grades not made by Nova," said Mike Burns, a PE market analyst with Resin Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.
Producers' need for margin improvement played a role in the increase, since there were no real inventory or production drivers for it, Burns added.
Sources said the 4-cent hike has a good chance of being implemented on other grades of HDPE, LDPE and LLDPE during March. The March PE market also could be affected by the planned startup of 230 million pounds of new ethylene feedstock capacity at Westlake Chemical Corp.'s plant in Lake Charles, La.
The 4-cent move comes on the heels of a 5-cent increase that hit the market in January. By comparison, PE prices fell a net of 5 cents per pound for full-year 2012.
HDPE also had a solid year in 2012 with U.S./Canadian sales growth of 2.2 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. LDPE posted a growth rate of less than 1 percent, while LLDPE sales fell almost 2 percent.
Regional prices for suspension PVC ticked up an average of 3 cents per pound in February, as processors built inventories in advance of construction season. U.S. housing starts grew more than 30 percent in 2012, according to the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders, and are expected to enjoy healthy growth this year as well.
One regional resin buyer said that tight resin supplies and high export pricing helped the 3-cent move take hold. A 5-cent hike nominated for March may end up being split between March and April, he added.
The February increase is the first to hit the PVC market this year and the first price movement since prices fell 1 cent per pound in December. Even with that drop, regional PVC prices increased by a net of 2 cents per pound during 2012.
Sources said 2013 PVC demand so far seems to be slightly ahead of 2012's pace. PVC had the best performance of any commodity resin in the North American market during 2012, posting growth of almost 6 percent.
Regional PS prices slipped by an average of 2 cents per pound in Februrary. The drop occurred amid a backdrop of soft demand and lower prices for benzene feedstock, which is used to make styrene monomer.
North American benzene prices hit a record high of $5.16 per gallon in January but then slipped to $4.80 in Feburary — a drop of almost 7 percent. Benzene prices for March already have settled at $4.69 — a drop of more than 2 percent vs. January — leading some buyers to expect PS pricing to be flat or slightly down in March.
PS prices in the region had been flat since seeing a 3-cent increase in late 2012. Prices for the material saw a net gain of 10 cents for full-year 2012.
PS sales in North America — including Mexico — declined by 3.5 percent during 2012. That dip included a 1 percent drop in PS sold into food packaging/food service, the end market that counted for almost 60 percent of North American PS sales last year.