North American markets for solid polystyrene and suspension PVC resin in May reversed their directions from earlier in the year, with PS prices rising and PVC sliding.
The PS move saw prices rise 2 cents per pound in May after falling a total of 5 cents earlier in the year, including a 3-cent drop in April. Higher prices for benzene feedstock played a role in the PS increase, as benzene prices for May settled at $4.47 per gallon, up almost 3 percent vs. April.
The early-year price drops mean that regional PS prices remain down about 2 percent so far in 2013. Benzene prices — even after the May increase — are down about 13 percent from their January levels.
In the first four months of 2013, solid PS demand essentially was flat vs. the year-ago period, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. One area of strength for the market was in sales of solid PS into the electrical/electronic end market, where four-month sales were up 12 percent.
For PVC, regional prices fell an average of 2 cents per pound in May after being flat in April and up a total of 8 cents earlier in the year. Even with the 2-cent May drop, regional suspension PVC prices remain up about 6 percent so far in 2013.
Buyers cited lower demand as a reason for the price decline in May, as many PVC processors already have stocked up on resin needed for the construction season. Building and construction applications generate a majority of North American PVC demand.
Four-month PVC demand in the U.S, and Canada essentially was flat vs. the same quarter in 2012, according to ACC. An increase of more than 1 percent in domestic demand was negated by a drop of almost 4 percent in export sales.
Domestic sales into PVC's market-leading rigid pipe and tubing sector grew almost 3 percent in the first four months of 2013. That category accounted for 45 percent of four-month domestic PVC demand. But sales of PVC to domestic resellers and compounders tumbled 13 percent during the period. That sector accounted for almost 10 percent of four-month domestic PVC demand.
Longer-term U.S. construction trends remain positive for the PVC market. Housing starts — including single-family and multi-family units — commenced at an annual pace of 853,000 in April, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. That was the lowest rate so far in 2013, but was still 9 percent above the full-year 2012 level. The four-month average rate of 935,000 housing starts would be almost 20 percent higher than 2012 if it continues for the rest of the year.