Average North American selling prices for solid polystyrene and ABS resin have bounded up since July 1, fueled by rapid rises in price for benzene feedstock.
Benzene a key feedstock used in production of styrene monomer closed at $2.92 per gallon in July, up almost 25 percent from June. August could bring more of the same, with benzene set to close at $3.65 per gallon, an increase of an additional 25 percent.
Prices for benzene were so low at the beginning of the year that no one was making it on purpose, and that limited supplies, said Greg Smith, a market analyst with the Resin Technology Inc. consulting firm in Fort Worth, Texas. Several [benzene] plants were down because of lack of profitability.
Regional prices for solid PS now are up an average of 16 cents about 24 percent since Jan. 1, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart. By comparison, prices for the material had fallen about 40 percent in the last four months of 2008.
Slack demand and high pricing have led to the closing of almost one-fourth of overall North American PS capacity since 2005. Demand remained soft in the first four months of 2009, with overall PS sales falling 14 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. Sales of PS into food packaging applications fell almost 17 percent during that period.
PS has lost a lot of applications to polyethylene and polypropylene over the years, according to RTI's Smith. Because it's a heavier material, it's got a higher cost per cubic inch.
In ABS, feedstock pressures allowed producers to complete their first price hike of the year. Regional ABS prices had taken a tumble of almost 30 percent in late 2008.
Demand seems to be improving month after month, but it's still not where it was at this time last year, an Ohio-based ABS executive said.
ACC no longer releases monthly sales totals for ABS. The last full-year data available showed North American ABS sales of about 1.3 billion pounds in 2007. Regional sales of the material had been almost 1.5 billion pounds as recently as 2002.
PS makers now are seeking increases of 5 cents per pound for Aug. 1, with makers of ABS attempting 7-cent price hikes by the end of August.
Also this week, Plastics News is correcting prices for expanded PS to show increases of roughly 20 percent that occurred in the first half of 2009. The increases were connected to feedstock moves, since regional EPS demand sank almost 27 percent in the first four months of 2009, according to ACC.
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