North American polypropylene resin prices have tumbled an average of 3 cents per pound since June 1, following a downward trend in price for propylene monomer.
It's the fifth straight month that regional prices for the material have fallen. The previous four price declines had totaled an average of 4 cents per pound. Those declines followed a 5-cent hike that took hold in January.
The June drop again came as a bit of a surprise, since PP demand has been improving in recent months. North American PP sales for 2014 are up more than 2 percent through April vs. the year-ago period. And expectations are that May sales totals for the region will be up about 5 percent vs. April.
A buyer in the U.S. Midwest said that PP sales have remained strong through June, but he added that downward pressure on propylene monomer has buyers expecting another possible PP price decline in July.
Inventory levels don't appear to have had much effect on PP pricing so far in 2014. Prices fell in April even though inventories tightened by more than 1 percent.
Domestic PP sales in April were flat vs. the same month in 2013, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. In spite of being flat overall, domestic sales of PP into sheet applications jumped more than 19 percent month-vs.-month. Sales of the material to compounders also bumped up almost 14 percent for the month. But those moves were canceled out by a surprising sales drop of 16 percent for sales of PP into injection molded rigid packaging, including cups, containers, caps and closures.
North American PP gains through April included a 1.6 percent increase in domestic sales and a gain of more than 25 percent in export sales.
In a recent interview, PP market analyst Scott Newell said that the 2014 North American PP market has been affected by pre-buying done by processors in late 2013, and by a lack of unexpected outages in propylene production. Pre-buying was done as buyers expected early-year price hikes as seen in recent years. As a result, Newell said, regional PP processors have been able to work off existing inventory without needing to buy more.
“It wasn't a huge pre-buy but it definitely took place,” said Newell, who is with Resin Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.
The lack of unplanned propylene outages also meant that more material was available for PP production. Prices have been soft as a result.
“Normally, there's no cushion in the [propylene] market to handle unplanned outages and that's what causes prices to go up,” Newell said. “But it didn't happen this year.”
With 12 cents of price volatility so far in 2014, the regional PP market remains well off the pace of 2013, when price increases and decreases totaled 38 cents, according to the Plastics News resin pricing chart.