Material Insights: Pricing changes, biomaterial innovations

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Resin pricing activity showed no signs of slowing down in February. Details on changes for suspension PVC, solid polystyrene and PET bottle resin, plus a report from the Innovation Takes Root conference, in this edition of Material Insights.

North American prices for suspension PVC and solid polystyrene rose again in February, while PET bottle resin prices slipped for the second month in a row.

PVC prices climbed 3 cents in February. A PVC buyer in the southern United States told Plastics News that resin supplies remain tight and that there were no cracks in the armor of PVC makers that would have prevented the increase from taking hold. What’s going on here is that a number of supply issues are affecting material availability. 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. OxyVinyls also has had production challenges because of cold weather. A VCM feedstock plant operated by Axiall Corp. in Lake Charles, La., also will be out of action until March because of a fire that hit that location in December. That outage continues to affect the firm’s PVC production.

February was the second consecutive month that the regional 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.

For polystyrene, 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. Benzene prices for February checked in at $5.09 per gallon — up about 5 percent vs. January. The February hike was the fourth straight month that benzene prices had increased.

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. Demand also has been soft, as colder winter temperatures have stifled demand for carbonated soft drinks and bottled water.

Finally, News Editor Rhoda Miel spoke with officials from NatureWorks and Metabolix about PLA and other bio-based materials at the Innovation Takes Root 2014 conference.