Diverging feedstock trends have sent North American prices for high-impact polystyrene resin up since March 1, while PET bottle resin prices have declined since that date.
Regional prices for HIPS rose an average of 2 cents per pound in March, mainly as a result of higher prices for butadiene feedstock, according to buyers contacted by Plastics News. Market prices for benzene feedstock essentially were flat in March, rising less than 1 percent.
Prices for general-purpose PS were flat in March and April, while HIPS prices were expected to be flat in April as well. North American HIPS prices now are up an average of 16 cents per pound, about 15 percent, so far in 2012. By comparison, regional prices for general-purpose PS — without the butadiene factor involved — are up an average of 10 cents, or about 10 percent, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.
Benzene prices fell about 3 percent in April, but are expected to trend higher in May. Higher prices for the material could increase the chances of another PS price hike taking hold, according to a PS buyer in the Chicago area.
In the first two months of 2012, North American PS sales increased almost 5 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. General-purpose PS growth of 71/2 percent outpaced HIPS growth of 11/2 percent for that two-month period.
Among end uses, PS sales into food packaging and food service also grew about 5 percent for the period. That sector led the way with about 55 percent of regional PS demand in those two months.
In an interview at NPE2012 in Orlando, the top executive of global PS leader Styrolution Group GmbH of Frankfurt, Germany, said North America “is going to be a success story for polystyrene, after several years of being depressed.”
CEO Roberto Gualdoni added that higher prices for competing polypropylene resin are working in the favor of the PS market. Low-single-digit PS growth rates are expected in North America for the next several years, Gualdoni said.
In PET, a 1-cent March price increase was countered by a 3-cent drop in April for a two-month net change of 2 cents down. Lower prices for paraxylene feedstock drove down prices for PTA feedstock as well, a market source said. Prices for ethylene glycol feedstock also slid.
North American PET prices now are down about 3 cents per pound, or 3 percent, so far in 2012. PET producers are hoping that an early warming trend in some parts of the U.S. will lead to increased beverage demand and stronger PET demand in the first half of the year.
Also at NPE2012, an executive with North American PET leader DAK Americas LLC in Charlotte, N.C., said PET demand in the region could rise 41/2 percent this year, after coming in at just under 5 percent in 2011.
Specialty polymers Vice President Tom Sherlock added that PET demand from energy drinks “increased dramatically” in 2011 and that the bottled water market also grew at a rate of 4-5 percent.