Prices for suspension PVC and solid polystyrene each have climbed since March 1, but the fate of future increases remains up in the air.
Suspension PVC jumped an average of 2 cents a pound, while solid PS moved 5 cents, according to buyers and industry sources. The PVC hike was tied to seasonal demand, while the PS uptick was connected to high prices of benzene, which is used to make styrene monomer.
``PVC demand and pipe prices were up some [in March], but it's gone down some since then,'' a Midwest-based PVC buyer said. ``PVC producers aren't shipping overseas as much this year, and that's leading to some material available in the spot market.''
Producers still are haggling with buyers over an additional penny for April 1, and major producers have nominated another penny increase for May 1.
U.S./Canadian PVC sales were up more than 2 percent in the first two months of 2005, according to the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va., but the construction market was giving off mixed signals. Construction-related sales account for more than 60 percent of U.S./Canadian PVC sales.
New-home construction for March checked in at a 1.8 million annualized rate, but some market watchers were expecting it to hit 2 million. At the same time, colder spring weather has slowed construction in the Midwest and West Coast, leading to pent-up demand, which could spur PVC sales.
``Homebuilders are behind because of the weather,'' an executive with a PVC maker said. ``They've lost a lot of contractor days already.''
Neither buyers nor sellers expected the PVC market to see much impact from a maintenance turnaround at Georgia Gulf Corp.'s PVC plant in Plaquemine, La. The plant was scheduled to take the two-week shutdown in early June but instead will take it in early May because of minor production problems.
The solid PS market has been riding an even bumpier road in 2005. The 5 cent March rise - after producers had sought a total of 8 cents - came after a 3 cent drop in January. Subsequent softness has thrown increases of 4-6 cents announced for April 1 in doubt, sources said.
As has been the case for PS for most of the past two years, benzene holds the key. Prices had been as high as $4 per gallon in February, fueling the price increase, but since that point have receded to recent levels close to $2.50. Contract benzene prices dropped almost 90 cents between April and May - the market's largest-ever one-month plunge.
``April started OK, but there was downward pressure building,'' said Craig Fisher, a PS market analyst with the Townsend Polymer Services consulting firm in Houston. ``Demand was OK and producers were scaling back their production rates, but then there was this drop off in [benzene] feedstocks.''
Fisher added that high North American selling prices also have limited export opportunities for the region's PS makers.
According to APC, North American PS demand - including expanded PS - dropped almost 2 percent in the first two months of 2005.