Average selling prices in the North American polystyrene market have fallen since March 1, but suppliers are trying to reverse the trend with increases of 6 cents per pound set for June 1.
Meanwhile in the polycarbonate market, post-hurricane price gains have vanished since Jan. 1.
Per-pound prices for solid PS have dropped an average of 4 cents since March 1, with the action split between March and April, according to several buyers contacted by Plastics News. Most buyers agreed that pricing in May was flat. In expandable PS, the drop was a little steeper, totaling 6 cents per pound since Jan. 1.
The 4 cent drop now has prices on par with their pre-hurricane levels. PS prices rose an average of 10 cents per pound from August through November as post-hurricane conditions limited supplies of raw materials and placed many PS consumers on allocation.
``[PS] suppliers need to get this [6 cent, June 1] increase, but if they do, it will all be based on raw materials and not on demand,'' a Texas-based PS market contact said.
The same contact added that prices for PS feedstock benzene already were running up in late May, moving above the $2.80 per-gallon mark and possibly heading for $3.
Leading PS maker Nova Chemicals Corp. of Pittsburgh endured a difficult first quarter of 2006. Its styrenics business - including PS and related products - lost $45 million, more than double its loss during the same period in 2005.
Quarterly sales in the unit were roughly flat at $604 million, but Nova's North American sales volume in pounds - for solid PS and expanded PS combined - dropped 13 percent to 254 million vs. the year-ago period.
In the first quarter of 2006, U.S./Canadian PS sales were down about 6 percent, according to the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va. Sales into the domestic market were down a similar amount, including a drop of almost 13 percent in sales of EPS.
Amid the overall decline, PS sales into food service managed a gain of almost 1 percent. That segment accounted for almost 40 percent of total U.S./Canadian PS sales during the quarter.
In polycarbonate, prices for optical media-grade material have tumbled an average of 15 cents per pound since Jan.1, with all other PC grades down an average of 10 cents per pound.
The optical media slide was more pronounced as those materials became more commoditized in recordable CDs and DVDs, sources said.
More than 800 million pounds of PC capacity is being added worldwide this year, prompting suppliers to hope for a rebound from the sluggish demand pace of early 2006. North American PC prices had climbed an average of 9 cents per pound in the months following the Gulf Coast hurricanes.
Overall PC demand ``is picking up now but was pretty flat in the first quarter,'' a Houston-based PC market source said.