PVC prices ticked up another penny in February, while polycarbonate prices climbed 8 cents per pound during that same month.
ABS prices also jumped a nickel during the fourth quarter of 2004, bringing last year's total ABS price jump to an average of 24 cents per pounds, according to buyers contacted recently by Plastics News.
The PVC penny was the second half of a 2 cent move originally slated for Jan. 1. Some buyers reported seeing the full 2 cents in January and nothing in February. Major PVC makers now are working on an additional 2 cent increase with a March 1 effective date.
Although a number of buyers reported first-quarter sales that were slow even by seasonal standards, many said the expected spring pickup from the construction industry could give the March increase attempt some teeth.
PVC makers ``are still getting some push-back from their customers, but they expect us to be busy in April,'' said a Texas-based PVC buyer who is active in the construction market. Construction-related uses accounted for about 60 percent of all U.S./Canadian PVC sales in 2004.
The latest PVC increase comes after prices for pipe-grade PVC rose almost 33 percent in 2004, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
In PC, an 8 cent move took hold, giving buyers flashbacks to the 25 cents' worth of increases that shook the market last year. That worked out to a jump of about 18 percent on general-purpose, injection molding grades, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
``If you look at supply and demand of polycarbonate feedstocks, bisphenol-A is still tight and cumene is tight also,'' said Karen Shepard-Jackson, engineering plastics product director for Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich. ``There have also been some maintenance turnarounds that have taken some [PC feedstock] phenol capacity off-line.''
Roger Rumer, PC business director for Bayer Corp. in Pittsburgh, declined to comment on specific pricing actions, but said that North American PC demand ``remains strong in all sectors.''
``Optical data and storage continues to be strong, a little softer in audio but stronger in DVD,'' he explained. ``Demand for polycarbonate in food and water bottles also is solid in North America.''
Dow's Shepard-Jackson agreed that demand has held up.
``The optical media market is usually busy in the third and fourth quarter, but it's been busy in the first and second quarters this year as well,'' she said.
Rumer added that Bayer likes what it sees in the construction market, where sales have increased for PC sheet made by its Sheffield Plastics unit.
``We've tried to recover raw material price increases on materials like benzene, cumene and phenol, all of which are up 100 percent or more since early 2002,'' he said. ``Polycarbonate prices aren't up that much, so we're still trying to recover margin.''
Rumer said he also is optimistic because global PC operating rates are above 90 percent, and because Bayer has seen some injection molding tools returning to North America from Asia as firms see an equalization of total manufacturing costs in each region.
Bayer's next round of PC expansion will be in China, where it will add 220 million pounds of capacity next year and another 220 million pounds in 2009.
Dow now is pursuing PC price increases of 9 cents per pound set for March 1 and 7 cents per pound set for April 1.
The final nickel that hit ABS last year has been followed by another 7 cents announced for February and 7-14 cents announced for March and April. The 24 cent ramp-up reported on Plastics News' resin pricing chart equaled an increase of about 34 percent on high-impact injection grades.
``Pricing pressure [on ABS] is looking worse than last year,'' said David Gingras, styrenics sales manager for Lanxess Corp. in Pittsburgh. ``Styrene monomer prices had gone down as benzene [feedstock] dropped, but now benzene is back over $4 a gallon again.''
``Acrylontirile and butadiene also are ramping up because of capacity rationalization and supply issues, so ABS is getting pressure from all three elements.''
Shepard-Jackson said ABS producers have been aggressive in their increase attempts because of difficulties seen last year.
``We don't want to get into a situation like in 2004, where we were chasing price increases on feedstocks,'' she said, adding that North American ABS demand picked up in March after being slow in January and February.
North American ABS posted sales growth of about 9 percent in 2004, but Gingras said the market still needs to recover from previous negative sales years. Growth in 2004 came from pipe, fittings and custom sheet for recreational vehicles, trucks and buses.
The automotive market, however, remained challenging.
``We had to do pricing surcharges for our automotive customers last year,'' Gingras said. ``We were losing money on each pound we sold [into automotive]. So, in effect, we said they had to take the surcharge or we'd stop shipping. We hated to take that approach, but we had no other choice.''
Elsewhere, Plastics News is adjusting prices of PC/ABS blends upwards by 4 cents per pound to reflect the changes in prices of the two component materials.