Strengthening demand and higher raw material costs have pushed North American prices for polyethylene, polypropylene and suspension PVC prices up since March 1.
PE prices surged an average of 5 cents per pound, canceling out price drops totaling that same amount that had hit the market in January and February.
U.S./Canadian sales of high density PE were up almost 10 percent in the first two months of the year, according to the American Chemistry Council in Washington. Domestic HDPE sales were up only 1.3 percent, but export sales skyrocketed 48 percent for the two-month period.
In the U.S./Canadian linear low density PE market, two-month sales grew 7 percent, with domestic growth of 3.5 percent boosted by a 20 percent uptick in exports.
West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices began March around $36 per barrel, but soon approached $42 and were just under $40 in late trading March 24. Crude oil prices are used as an international price-setter for PE, even though most PE made in North America is based on natural gas.
On the supply side, the Braskem Idesa joint venture expects to be shipping new PE from a plant in Mexico by the end of April.
Regional PP prices ticked up an average of 1 cent per pound in March, although some buyers saw different outcomes. Prices had been flat in February after experiencing four consecutive price increases from October through January. Those increases had totaled 10 cents per pound.
“March pricing continues to be negotiated with varying outcomes,” market analyst Scott Newell said in an email. “Imports are here and are grabbing market share. This has created competitive situations in which many PP producers are responding with lower prices.
“It's very much a mixed bag and dependent on what kind of price structure you have and what supplier you deal with,” added Newell, who is with Resin Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.
North American PP sales grew almost 3 percent in the first two months of 2016. Domestic sales growth of just over 4 percent was lessened by a 53 percent drop in export sales.
PVC up 4 cents in March
The regional suspension PVC market saw prices jump an average of 4 cents per pound in March, as several planned and unplanned production outages caused resin supplies to become tight.
“Weather has been improving, which usually helps PVC demand in construction, but there's been limited volume [of resin] available because of the outages,” an industry source said.
Regional PVC prices had been flat in February after dropping an average of 1 cent per pound in January. Major PVC suppliers now have announced an additional increase of 3 cents per pound effective April 1.
U.S./Canadian PVC sales grew just over 7 percent in January, with export sales growth of almost 21 percent improving a modest 1.4 percent domestic growth rate.