The lazy days of summer proved lazy indeed for North American commodity resin prices in July, as only solid polystyrene and PET bottle resin showed any change from the previous month.
For PS, a decline of 3 cents per pound occurred as prices for benzene feedstock — used to make styrene monomer — dipped 15 cents to $2.84 per gallon. That move represents a 5 percent decline vs. benzene prices for June.
Regional PS prices had been flat in June after falling 4 cents per pound in May. Counting previous increases and decreases, PS prices now are down a net of 1 cent per pound for the year.
North American PS sales slumped 5.5 percent in the first half of 2018. A domestic sales loss of just over 6 percent was lessened by a 19 percent surge in export sales. PS sales to resellers and distributors grew almost 10 percent in that six-month period.
PET bottle resin prices declined by an average of 2 cents per pound in July after having increased 3 cents in June and 2 cents in May. Lower demand was cited as a reason for the July dip.
Scattered production issues and tighter supplies of feedstocks could make regional PET markets tighter in August and September, sources said. This change could lead to flat pricing or even give regional PET makers a chance to raise prices, they added.
Average North American market prices for all grades of polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC were flat in July. High and low density PE prices now have been flat for four straight months, with linear LDPE prices now flat for two months in a row after sliding 3 cents in May.
In spite of a flat market, the impacts of large new amounts of HDPE and LLDPE capacity are being felt in regional demand. U.S./Canadian sales of HDPE jumped 8.8 percent in the first half of 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council, with LLDPE sales booming 16.3 percent. Exports played a big role in this growth, with LLDPE exports up an astonishing 60.2 percent and HDPE exports leaping 18.9 percent.
Domestic market growth for those materials also exceeded that of U.S. GDP. HDPE sales into the domestic market were up 6.5 percent in the first half, with domestic LLDPE sales up 4 percent.
Sales of LDPE — where less new capacity has been added — ticked up 0.9 percent for the half, as a 0.4 percent export loss weakened domestic growth of 1.4 percent. LDPE's nonpackaging film end market — including retail bags and trash and can liners — grew 7 percent.
Regional PP prices took a rare break in July after surging 8 cents per pound in June after moving up 7 cents in May. That followed a two-month period in March-April when prices slipped a total of 7 cents.
PP prices in the region now are up a net of 11 cents per pound for the year. Total price volatility for the material — including all increase and decreases — has reached 40 cents per pound.
For PP, North American sales dipped 0.5 percent. A 23.8 percent decline in export sales countered a gain of 0.2 percent in the domestic market. Among major end markets, sales of PP into oriented film were up 17 percent and into injection molded caps and closures were up 7 percent.
Regional suspension PVC prices were flat for the third straight month in July after moving down an average of 2 cents in April. First-half U.S./Canadian PVC growth of 5.5 percent was powered by export growth of 17 percent.
Sales of PVC into the domestic market ticked up 0.6 percent. Among major end markets, PVC sales into extruded windows and doors surged upward by 31 percent in the first half.