By: Frank Esposito
November 27, 2013
Feedstock-related issues have moved North American prices for PET bottle resin up a net of 4 cents per pound in recent months, while regional prices for polypropylene resin fell 1 cent per pound in November.
The PET move came as increases for August and September were weathered by a drop in October. Market sources said changes in price for paraxylene and purified terephthalic acid feedstock affected regional PET prices, as demand remained relatively flat to up 1-2 percent at most. Profit margins at regional PET-making firms also weren't boosted very much by the August-September price hikes, sources said.
Even after the net 4-cent increase, regional PET prices remain down a net of 2 cents per pound so far in 2013, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart. Buyers said further price decreases could hit the market in November as seasonal demand slows. Ongoing lightweighting of PET carbonated soft drink and water bottles also continues to affect North American resin demand.
The major capacity news hitting the North American PET sector in the first half of 2013 was DAK America's mid-June announcement that the firm would close its plant in Wilmington, N.C., by September. The plant — known as the Cape Fear plant — employs 600 and has annual PET capacity of 440 million pounds. Earlier this year, DAK's parent firm — Alpex SAB de CV of Monterrey, Mexico — bought the rights to 900 million pounds of new PET capacity at a plant that M&G Group will open in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2016.
By 2018, North American PET makers will add about 3.5 billion pounds of capacity to a North American market that currently operates about 8.4 billion pounds. Industry analyst Chase Willett recently said that more rationalization of older capacity is expected, but flat domestic demand growth means that the new PET capacity will serve to reduce the amount of resin imported into North America. Almost every global region is oversupplied with PET, leading to global operating rates in the 60s, said Willett, who's with IHS Chemical in Houston.
The 1-cent November slide for PP is the second consecutive monthly decline, following a 2-cent drop in October. Regional PP prices now are down a net of 7 cents per pound so far in 2013.
Sources said the November drop was tied to a decline in price for polymer-grade propylene monomer, as well as soft seasonal demand. One industry contact said the November decline was expected to be in the 2-4 cent range until spot prices rallied late in the month, limiting the slide to 1 cent.
PP's broad range of uses in commercial and industrial products was lifted earlier in the year as U.S. gross domestic product growth improved to around 2.5 percent and the U.S. unemployment rate fell to almost 7 percent. That rate had been as high as 7.9 percent in February.
North American PP makers are expected to add almost 9 billion pounds of propylene production from 2013-18 — an increase of about 23 percent. Most of that new capacity will come via "on-purpose" PDH (propane dehydrogenation) methods, according to IHS market analyst Joel Morales. Excess propane from shale is driving new investments, Morales said recently. However, he added, PP price volatility will be here until that new propylene capacity comes on in 2015.