By: Frank Esposito
March 6, 2014
Feedstock issues and supply tightness have driven up North American prices for suspension PVC and solid polystyrene resin since Feb. 1.
But a different feedstock and lower demand served to send regional prices for PET bottle resin down in that same time period.
PVC prices are up an average of 3 cents per pound. A PVC buyer in the southern U.S. said the increase “looks like a slam dunk.”
“Resin is still tight, and we haven’t seen any cracks in the armor,” he said.
PVC makers OxyVinyls and Westlake Chemicals Corp. are on control distribution with customers because of limited ethylene supply from a pipeline running from Texas to Louisiana, sources said. OxyVinyls also has had production challenges because of cold weather, they added.
A vinyl chloride monomer feedstock plant operated by Axiall Corp. in Lake Charles, La., also will be out of action until March because of a December fire. That outage continues to affect the firm’s PVC production.
February was the second consecutive month that the North American PVC market saw a 3-cent hike. Another 3-cent increase is on the table for March, with sources giving it a good chance of success because of market tightness. Prior to the January/February hikes, regional PVC prices had been flat since falling a penny per pound in October.
Pipe makers and other construction-related businesses are stocking up on PVC for the construction season, but sources said harsh winter weather already has slowed some construction projects in different regions of the U.S.
U.S./Canadian PVC inventories were in good shape heading into 2014. Regional inventories closed the fourth quarter of 2013 at just over 560 million pounds, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. That level was basically unchanged from the end of the third quarter.
Polystyrene on the rise
For PS, higher prices for benzene feedstock catapulted prices up an average of 5 cents per pound in February. That followed a 6-cent upward jolt that hit in January and a 4-cent hike in December. The increases have sent buyers scrambling in attempts to pass those costs on to customers who buy their finished products.
The North American PS market already has seen 11 cents of price volatility in the first two months of 2014 after experiencing only 16 cents worth of movement in all of 2013, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
Benzene prices for February checked in at $5.09 per gallon — up about 5 percent since January. The February hike was the fourth straight month that benzene prices had increased. The February price represents a 24 percent total increase since November.
Regional PS inventories already were tightening heading into 2014, according to ACC. PS inventory levels ended 2013 at about 254 million pounds — down almost 3 percent from where they were at the end of the third quarter. Supplies will be further tightened by the end of 2014 as Styrolution LLC phases out its PS plant in Indian Orchard, Mass. That plant has annual capacity of more than 300 million pounds.
PET prices fall
In PET, average per-pound prices tumbled an average of 2 cents per pound in February after sliding a penny in January. Lower prices for paraxylene feedstock affected PET costs, sources said. Demand also has been soft, as colder winter temperatures have stifled demand for carbonated soft drinks and bottled water — two large markets for PET use.
Total PET price volatility for 2013 was 12 cents, according to the PN chart. That total is low vs. the market’s historic average.