North American polystyrene prices rose in April, while prices for other commodity resins are struggling to do the same. Resin buyers of all stripes seem reluctant to pull the trigger on new purchase orders in an economy where industrial demand remains wobbly even on good days.
Per-pound prices for solid PS in the region climbed an average of 2 cents, according to buyers contacted by Plastics News. Although demand remained soft, the increase was fueled by higher prices for benzene feedstock. Per-gallon prices for benzene hit $1.69 in April a gain of 40 cents, or 31 percent from the prior month.
The increase comes on the heels of a 3 cent move that took hold in March. Prior to that increase, North American PS prices had fallen 40 percent since August 2008 as both demand and feedstock prices swooned.
U.S./Canadian PS sales fell 10.5 percent during 2008, according to the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. PS sales into food packaging one of the market's largest single end uses fell 12 percent.
Recent price increases have been feedstock-based, receiving no leverage from resin demand. At market leader Ineos Nova LLC in Channahon, Ill., first-quarter sales volumes in pounds for both solid and expanded PS fell 9 percent to 377 million pounds. Ineos Nova leads the North American sector with a market share of 35 percent, based on estimated 2008 sales.
In spite of the sales loss, Ineos Nova broke even in the first quarter, after showing a $2 million operating profit in the same period last year. The unit is a joint venture between Nova Chemicals Corp. of Pittsburgh and Ineos Group of Lyndhurst, England. But Nova Chemicals' shareholders recently approved their firm's sale to International Petroleum Investment Corp. of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
North American PS makers now are working to implement a 4 cent-per-pound move as of May 1.
Pricewise, PS has fared better than makers of polyethylene and polypropylene, which now are working to raise prices 3 cents per pound in May after being unable to do so in April. PE makers had succeeded in raising prices an average of 7 cents per pound in January. Prior to that, regional PE prices had fallen 45 percent since July 2008.
In PP, prices have been flat since producers won a combined 9 cents of increases in January and February. In PET bottle resin, producers are seeking a 6 cent hike May 1 after winning a 5 cent increase earlier in the year. North American market prices had fallen about 35 percent since July 2008.
Suspension PVC prices also have been flat since ticking up an average of 3 cents per pound earlier this year. North American market prices for that material had fallen about 23 percent since August 2008.
Westlake Chemical Corp. of Houston may have provided a glimmer of light in a down market. The plastics and chemicals firm recently reported that although sales of their olefins and vinyls products substantially were down from a year ago, they improved when compared to the fourth quarter of 2008.
Westlake's sales of vinyls (including PVC) were up 11 percent vs. the fourth quarter, while its olefins sales (including PE) were up 3 percent in the same comparison. Company officials cited customer inventory restocking as a reason for the improvement.