Materials-related highlights from the International Builders Show

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Prices for solid polystyrene and PET bottle resin were headed in different directions in January. We'll talk about why, plus catch up on materials-related highlights from last week's International Builders Show, in this edition of Material Insights.

Polystyrene continued its recent surge, climbing an average of 6 cents per pound, in January. But PET prices were impacted by weak seasonal demand and dropped an average of 1 cent per pound.

The polystyrene hike was tied to higher prices for benzene feedstock, as well as to demand that was higher than expected by some market watchers. Benzene prices closed at $4.84 per gallon in January — up 8 percent from December.

A 9 percent increase in benzene prices between November and December had helped to push solid polystyrene prices up 4 cents per pound in December. The 10-cent combined PS price jump in December and January has taken some buyers and market watchers by surprise, especially since total polystyrene price volatility for 2013 totaled only 16 cents. That number takes into account both increases and decreases shown on the Plastics News resin pricing chart.

And although a 1 percent increase in demand might not be a big deal in other markets, it was music to the ears of PS makers. That increase was reported by the American Chemistry Council and was the first seen by the regional PS market since 2011.

In PET, cold winter weather in much of the U.S. sapped beverage demand, sending prices down a penny. Regional market demand growth for 2013 was estimated at only 1-2 percent. That was due in part to lower consumption of carbonated soft drinks.

Also in this week's video, Plastics News reporter Catherine Kavanaugh and editor Don Loepp visited Las Vegas last week for the big builders show. They talked to officials from Eastman Chemical Co., Dow Chemical Co. and Koma Building Products about materials-related trends in the construction sector.