Strong feedstock costs and a tighter rein on production have allowed prices for several commodity resins to post modest increases since Nov. 1.
Average North American selling prices for polypropylene are up 3 cents per pound in that time frame, while prices for solid and expanded polystyrene, suspension PVC and PET bottle resin each are up an average of 2 cents per pound, said buyers contacted recently by Plastics News.
The PP move come after a turbulent two-month period that saw prices for the material leap 12 cents in September, only to come crashing down by 10 cents in October. The November increase is tied directly to a similar swing in the price of propylene monomer. Some buyers reported seeing slightly less than 3 cents for the month.
The rampant volatility witnessed by the PP market in the second half of 2009 might have longer-term repercussions, said a Midwest-based PP buyer.
We've got some customers in thermoforming who are thinking of switching back to paper because polypropylene pricing has been so unpredictable, the buyer said. There's no way we can plan for these [price] changes and that's going to hurt demand.
Through September, North American PP sales were down 4 percent vs. the same period in 2008, according to the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. Dynamic export growth of 67 percent helped to offset an 11 percent sales drop seen within the region.
Regional PS prices bounced back 2 cents after dropping by a total of 5 cents in September and October. Although demand remained weak, the hike was backed by an increase in the price of benzene feedstock, which went from $2.60 per gallon in October to $2.85 in November.
Benzene prices for December are expected to be flat, which could keep PS prices flat as well, buyers said. Through September, U.S./Canadian PS sales were down 13 percent vs. 2008, ACC said.
PVC rose 2 cents, as upward pressure on ethylene feedstock and increased export sales helped to tighten the North American market, even as regional demand for the material remained poor.
Exports from the U.S. and Canada almost tripled in September, to about 215 million pounds, ACC said. Through September, PVC exports were up almost 16 percent vs. 2008, but regional demand tumbled 13 percent.
A still-ravaged building and construction market has played a major role in the sufferings of PVC. Rigid pipe and tubing a major construction application accounted for almost half of regional PVC demand in the first nine months of 2009, but was off 12 percent vs. the year-ago period.
U.S. housing starts peaked at almost 2.1 million in 2006, but fell to 900,000 last year and are on track to be about 600,000 in 2009.
PET bottle resin ticked up 2 cents in November after sinking 5 cents in October. As a result, the PN resin pricing chart is showing a net decrease of 3 cents for the two-month period.
PET demand dropped because of shrinking bottle demand and the trend to make bottles lighter. Weak seasonal demand is allowing Eastman Chemical Co. to close a major resin plant in Columbia, S.C., for part of the fourth quarter for repairs and maintenance.
With the recent changes, regional PP prices are up 55 percent since Jan. 1, while PET prices are up 10 percent, PVC prices are up 17 percent and PS prices are up 19 percent in the same comparison, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
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