Soft demand in the automotive and compact-disc markets has led prices for ABS, nylon and polycarbonate resins to drop since late 2000.
In nylon, average selling prices have dropped an average of 4 cents per pound. That represents an average price dip of about 3 percent for both nylon 6 and 6/6.
Downward motion in the automotive market, which accounts for 40 percent of North American nylon resin sales, has taken its toll. First-quarter North American auto sales were down 17 percent, while production dropped 23 percent.
Comparatively, North American nylon sales in the first two months of 2001 were down 16 percent vs. 2000, with production down almost 19 percent, according to the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
"Obviously, when the automotive industry is down 20 percent in the first quarter, our sales are going to be impacted significantly," said Ferdinand Bauerdick, global nylon resin business director for market leader DuPont in Wilmington, Del.
"But it looks like we hit the bottom and are stabilizing," Bauerdick added. "April was OK, and unless May really drops, we're looking for an upswing."
DuPont and other nylon makers also are being pinched by high raw material and energy costs, but Bauerdick said those pressures probably won't lead to plant closings or major line shutdowns.
"We had some problems late last year with supplies getting tight, but right now I'd say the market is fairly balanced."
ABS likewise has seen prices drop by about 4 cents in both commodity and engineering grades since late 2000. That translates into a drop of about 4 percent on extrusion sheet grades, 5 percent on injection high-impact grades, 3 percent on injection high-heat grades and 3 percent on injection extra-high-impact grades, according to Plastics News' resin pricing chart.
The automotive market again played a role, since it's the single-largest end market for ABS with a 25-30 percent share. January/February ABS sales in North America were down 20 percent, with production dropping 16 percent, according to APC.
But Rick Stepien, ABS business manager for market leader GE Plastics, said the automotive numbers can be misleading.
"Trucks and [sport utility vehicles], which use more ABS per vehicle, held up very well," Stepien said. "A lot of the softness was in smaller passenger cars, which use less [ABS]."
Stepien added that polypropylene's assault on ABS automotive uses seems to have ground to a halt. He also said that ABS is regaining some appliance-based applications, such as refrigerator lining, that it had lost to high-impact polystyrene.
For PC, prices are down an average of 10 cents a pound since late 2000, reflecting a dip of about 6 percent on injection general-purpose grades, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
"The market has never really recovered from a slow Christmas season," one PC supplier said. "Sales of CDs were soft and came in well below where they were expected to be."
The supplier added that the softness extended to rewritable CDs, CD-ROMs and digital versatile discs. The North American PC market also has been affected by China's exit from buying, leaving more material available domestically, several sources said.
North America will see about 150 million pounds of new material next year when GE Plastics expands its Burkville, Ala., plant. GE also is opening a second plant in Cartagena, Spain, next year, that will produce about 300 million pounds of PC a year.