By: Frank Esposito
May 29, 2014
North American prices for polypropylene and solid polystyrene resins fell again in May, as soft demand and feedstock issues affected markets for those materials.
Regional PP prices dipped by an average of a half-cent per pound, marking the fourth straight month that prices for that material have fallen. The May drop is being shown as a full penny on this week’s Plastics News resin pricing chart to balance out a 1.5-cent March drop that was shown as a 1-cent drop on the chart. The four-month decline is a total of 4 cents per pound.
The slide has followed a similar price decline in propylene monomer. The situation has surprised some buyers and market watchers, since North American PP sales for 2014 are up more than 2 percent through April. A 1.6 percent increase in domestic sales has been enhanced by a gain of more than 25 percent in export sales, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington, D.C.
Regional PP sales for the month of April, however, were down almost 2 percent, with domestic sales flat and export sales off more than 54 percent vs. the same month in 2013.
“Polymer-grade propylene supplies aren’t tight, so it’s logical that the price would fall somewhat,” a PP buyer in the Midwest U.S. said. “Supplies of PGP will get even better as we enter June when some steam crackers come back on line.”
The price decline also may have been influenced by an increase in North American PP inventories, which grew almost 6 percent between January and April, according to ACC. In April, however, inventories tightened by more than 1 percent. But that tightening still wasn’t enough to prevent market prices from falling.
Leading PP maker LyondellBasell Industries posted strong first-quarter regional sales in spite of the price drop. The firm’s sales of PP in the Americas grew almost 9 percent to 614 million pounds in the quarter. LyondellBasell’s overall sales of olefins and polyolefins in the Americas grew 3.5 percent to almost $3.4 billion for the quarter, but that unit saw its operating profit fall 18 percent vs. the year-ago quarter.
In solid PS, a 1.5 cent per-pound drop hit the market in May. It’s being shown as a 2-cent move on this week’s PN pricing chart to balance out a 3.5-cent April drop that was shown as 3 cents.
The drop wasn’t all that surprising to buyers, since prices for benzene — a key component in styrene monomer feedstock — in May fell almost 5 percent to $4.57 per gallon. Benzene prices for June remained unsettled as of May 29.
Volatility remains an issue for the North American PS market. The 5-cent April to May drop came not long after prices surged a total of 15 cents in the three-month December to February period.
After growing 1 percent for full-year 2013, regional PS sales are off to a rough start in 2014, falling more than 3 percent through April, according to ACC. Sales of PS into food packaging and service — its largest end market — were flat in that four-month period, but sales to resellers and compounders fell 7 percent and sales into consumer and institutional uses fell more than 3 percent.
PS maker Styrolution Group had mixed first quarter results in the Americas, with polymer sales falling more than 2 percent to $408 million, even as pretax profit surged almost 75 percent to $33.6 million.