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PS up 6 cents on feedstock prices, stronger demand

By: Frank Esposito

February 6, 2014

North American solid polystyrene resin prices continued their recent surge in January, climbing an average of 6 cents per pound.

Regional PET bottle resin prices, however, headed in the other direction, dropping an average of 1 cent per pound in January amidst weak seasonal demand.

The PS hike was tied into higher prices for benzene feedstock, as well as to surprisingly strong demand. Benzene prices closed at $4.84 per gallon in January – up 8 percent from December.

A 9 percent November-December benzene price hike had allowed solid PS prices for December to increase by an average of 4 cents per pound. The 10-cent PS price jump in December-January has taken some buyers and market watchers by surprise, especially since total PS price volatility for 2013 – including increases and decreases – totaled only 16 cents, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.

Recent PS price hikes also have been supported by demand growth – something which has been rare in the North American PS market. Regional demand grew 1.1 percent in 2013 – according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington - marking the first increase in PS demand since 2011 and only the second year-on-year demand increase in the last decade.

Higher prices and competition from other resins had reduced regional PS sales – including EPS - from 6.8 billion pounds in 2004 to 5.4 billion pounds in 2012. Solid PS end market growth in 2013 came from the consumer/institutional (up 1.7 percent) and Food Packaging/Food Service (up 1.5 percent) end markets.

North American PS makers now are working to raise prices by another 4 cents per pound for January. Market watchers told Plastics News that recent erosion in spot process for benzene might make it difficult for producers to secure all of that increase.

In PET, cold winter weather in much of the U.S. sapped beverage demand, sending prices down a penny. Lower feedstock prices could send PET bottle resin prices down even further in February, market watchers said.

North American PET demand growth for 2013 was estimated at no higher than 1-2 percent. Recent growth has been limited because of bottle lightweighting and a societal move away from carbonated soft drinks in favor of bottled water — which uses less PET per bottle — and other healthier drinks.

The regional PET market also enjoyed less 2013 volatility when compared to recent years. Total PET price volatility for the year came in at 12 cents.