An increase in U.S. housing starts gave a boost to the regional PVC market through most of 2017.
Through October, housing starts were on pace to finish at around 1.25 million units, up a little more than 4 percent vs. 2016. In a similar trend, domestic U.S./Canadian PVC sales — more than 60 percent of which come from construction uses — were up more than 4 percent in the first 10 months of the year.
The overall U.S./Canadian PVC field saw sales grow just over 2 percent in that span, as a drop of almost 3 percent in export sales lessened the overall total.
PVC's flagship rigid pipe and tubing end market, which accounts for almost half of domestic sales, grew almost 6 percent in the 10-month period. Sales of the material into fencing and decking also jumped almost 9 percent.
In spite of the strong year, market analyst Phil Karig said there are some risks on the horizon for the PVC market in 2018. In particular, the overhaul of the U.S. tax code to limit tax deductions for housing mortgage interest payments could reduce housing starts, added Karig, managing director of Mathelin Bay Associates in St. Louis.
Those effects may be partially offset by marginal increases in GDP growth, he said. Exports of PVC should also remain relatively strong as the advantage for U.S. PVC resin producers using low-cost shale-derived natural gas to produce PVC "will not go away anytime soon," Karig added.
But unlike polyolefins, PVC processors can't expect to see any relief from capacity expansions or import opportunities for the material in 2018, he said. As a result, Karig added, leverage in PVC pricing negotiations is likely to belong mainly to resin producers in 2018, especially during the peak housing construction season.