As the last few days of 2018 faded away, prices for most North American commodity resins went in the same direction.
In December, average selling prices for polypropylene fell 8 cents per pound, according to market sources contacted by Plastics News. Regional prices for all grades of polyethylene slipped 3 cents per pound, while solid polystyrene prices slid 7 cents and PET bottle resin prices declined by 4 cents.
These declines mostly were tied into lower seasonal demand and higher supplies of both resins and feedstocks, sources said. Only PVC was spared a December decline, with prices remaining flat.
The PP drop follows a 10-cent tumble in November for a major two-month drop of 18 cents per pound. These slides were tied to changes in price for polymer-grade propylene feedstock. Those prices have dropped as propylene supplies have increased.
The December drop leaves North American PP prices down a net of 6 cents per pound for full-year 2018. The regional PP market in 2018 also was impacted by increased supplies of PP imported from other countries. Tight North American PP supplies and low prices for imported resin led buyers to foreign suppliers.
North American PP sales through November were down a little more than 1 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council, as a drop of 32 percent in exports sales brought down flat domestic sales. Market watchers said actual PP consumption in the region more likely was up 3-4 percent for the year because of increased amounts of imported PP.
Top growth markets for North American PP through November were film (up 4.5 percent), sheet (up more than 4 percent) and injection molded caps and closures (up almost 8 percent).
The 3-cent December drop for all grades of PE followed a similar 3-cent decline in November. The December decline, combined with earlier increases and decreases, leaves most grades of North American PE down a net of 2 cents per pound in 2018.
Market watchers cited lower oil prices and lower global demand for PE, especially from the packaging market, as reasons for the November and December drops. Oil prices affect global resin markets, even though most North American PE is based on natural gas.
U.S./Canadian high and linear low density PE sales have reported major growth through November, resulting from larger amounts of new capacity being sold into the export markets as well as domestic sales that have grown at strong rates.
HDPE sales in the region were up almost 13 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council, with domestic growth of more than 6 percent amplified by export sales growth of almost 43 percent. Domestic HDPE growth through November was led by the pipe and conduit market, where sales surged 16 percent.
In LLDPE, 11-month sales soared more than 24 percent, with domestic sales up almost 5 percent and export sales exploding almost 96 percent. Trash and can liners led domestic LLDPE growth through November, increasing 8 percent.
Regional sales of LDPE have grown at lower rates, up more than 5 percent through November. Flat domestic LDPE sales have been boosted by a gain of 21.5 percent in exports. Domestic LDPE growth through November was led by food packaging film, which grew more than 3 percent.
The 7-cent solid PS drop occurred after prices had been flat in November, even as prices for benzene feedstock had declined slightly. The December PS decline left regional prices down a net of 6 cents per pound for full-year 2018.
North American solid PS sales struggled in 2018, dropping almost 5 percent through November. Exports have provided a bright spot, growing more than 13 percent and reducing the impact of a 5.5 percent drop in domestic sales. Sales to domestic resellers and distributors also were up 1 percent through November.
For PET bottle resin, the 4-cent December drop followed declines of 6 cents in November and 1 cent in October. Even with these recent drops, PET bottle resin prices in the region were up a net of 4 cents per pound for the year.
Market watchers cited lower demand and improving supplies of purified terephthalic acid and other raw materials as reasons for the December decline. Demand for bottle resin declines in the fall and winter months — the result of declining sales of bottled water and carbonated soft drinks.
With flat pricing in November, regional solid PVC prices now have been unchanged for an incredible seven consecutive months. Market prices haven't moved since April, with supply and demand being closely balanced. Regional PVC prices are up a net of 3 cents for the year.
U.S./Canadian PVC sales were strong in the first 11 months of 2018, climbing 3.5 percent vs. the year-ago period.
Domestic PVC sales were flat, but the overall growth rate was bolstered by a jump of almost 12 percent in export sales. Among PVC end markets, extruded windows and doors showed strong 11-month growth of almost 26 percent. That segment accounted for almost 7 percent of all domestic PVC sales during that period.
At the macro-feedstock level, West Texas Intermediate crude oil prices began December at $52.50 per barrel but had slipped to $46 by the end of the month, a dip of more than 10 percent. Regional prices for natural gas fell from $4.20 per million British thermal units to $2.95 in the same comparison, for a drop of almost 30 percent.