European thermoplastics resin makers started the year with some ability to keep prices from falling too far, but as crude oil and petrochemical costs continued heading in a downward direction, buyers' bargaining power improved.
By the end of the month, the price declines in most cases exceeded the decline in production costs.
Low and linear low density polyethylene and high density PE blown film prices fell 50 to 60 euros ($54.10 to $64.90) per metric ton compared with the 27.5 euros ($29.60) per tonne reduction in the January ethylene contract price. HDPE blow molding and injection molding grades fell by 35-40 euros ($37.80 to $43.30) per tonne.
Polypropylene homopolymers fell 60 euros per tonne and copolymers by 40 euros per tonne against the 50 euros per tonne fall in propylene costs. PVC prices declined in line with the proportionate impact of ethylene on PVC costs.
Polystyrene was the exception where short supply enabled small price gains, despite styrene monomer costs falling.
In February, petrochemical feedstock costs continued on a downward trend. During the first half of the month, prices for most standard thermoplastics were trading downward by just less than the reduction in the monthly contract prices. Prices were expected to drift even lower as the month progressed.
Polymer demand was quite lively at the start of the year as converters began to build their inventories after the holiday period. By mid-January, however, it became apparent that crude oil and petrochemical feedstock costs were heading even lower. Buyers became more cautious in their outlook and ordered just sufficient to meet their immediate production needs, provided the price was right.
Demand held up well during the first two weeks of February although many converters continued to exercise restraint.
Availability of standard thermoplastics improved during the first two months of the year. Most cracker and polymer plants were operating without disruption, although several suppliers had to place customers on allocation. There are also several plant maintenance turnarounds on the horizon in the polyolefin sector.
Imports could however play a more prominent role. New plants in Mexico and the Middle East are preparing to export growing volumes to Europe, and Iran is set to return to the market soon.
Production cuts and upcoming changes also are affecting supply to European processors.
• Versalis' 110,000 tonnes per year LDPE line in Ferrara, Italy, was switched off Feb. 1 following a renewed problem — the third glitch that occurred at the site in the space of a month.
• A fire in the 170,000 tonnes per year LDPE/EVA swing plant at Versalis' Ragusa, Italy, site on Jan. 6 forced the company to declare force majeure for all of the “Riblene” LDPE and “Greenflex” EVA grades produced there.
• In the wake of a fire that took place in mid-December 2015 at the refinery in Port Jérôme, France, just as the facility was due to resume operations following a maintenance turnaround, ExxonMobil declared force majeure for its “Primol 352” white oil products at the refinery on Jan. 26.
• Construction of the low-pressure 300,000 tonnes per year HDPE/LLDPE plant in Mahabad, Iran, has been completed and operations have begun.
• National Petrochemical Industrial in Saudi Arabia was forced to shut down the propylene and polypropylene plants at its Yanbu site on Jan. 11 because of a technical problem.
• Over the course of the coming weeks, industrial investor Alain de Krassny and private equity group OpenGate Capital will restructure their current 50/50 ownership in PVC producer Kem One.
In mid-February, some market participants considered that feedstock costs and polymer prices could rise in March, given that crude oil prices were edging higher.