Improving demand and higher feedstock costs sent North American prices for polyethylene, solid polystyrene and suspension PVC resins up in July.
Regional prices for all grades of PE jumped 5 cents per pound in July as strong demand combined with lower output at some locations. PE prices in the region had moved up 4 cents per pound in June. North American PE makers now have a 5-cent increase on the table for August.
"There's strong demand in essential applications," PE market analyst Mike Burns said. "Demand in a lot of areas never went away."
"Now there's a surge in nonessentials as demand is picking up," added Burns, who's with Resin Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. Export markets opened up in June and July, adding additional strength to PE demand, he said.
Market sources said that even with some COVID-19-related slowdowns earlier in the year, the amount of PE sold into film applications in North America is on track to be slightly higher in 2020 than it was in 2019.
North American PE supplies also have been improved by Dow Inc.'s restart of two units that had been down since early May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two Formosa Plastics Corp. USA PE units in Point Comfort, Texas, remain down for maintenance. Those two units have combined annual capacity of almost two billion pounds.
The 3-cent jump in PS prices comes after prices moved up 2 cents in June. Regional prices for the material had declined a total of 10 cents in April and May as COVID-19 affected demand.
The July PS price hike followed a large increase for benzene feedstock, which is used to make styrene monomer. Benzene prices moved up 39 cents to $1.38 per gallon during July.
The regional PS market continues to face challenges, according to Phil Karig, managing director with Mathelin Bay Associates in St. Louis. "Unfortunately, nothing about the current COVID-19 situation that has benefited some other polymers will change polystyrene's downward trend," he said.
Karig added that PS "has been in a multiyear funk" because of environmental concerns, including perceived EPS waste pollution and HIPS recycling stream limitations.
The 2-cent increase in regional PVC prices for July came after a 3-cent hike took hold in June. Demand for the material has increased as construction markets have begun to recover from COVID-19. Construction-related uses account for around 60 percent of PVC consumption in the U.S. and Canada.
A market source told Plastics News that PVC makers have reduced inventory levels to just over seven days — a relatively low level — which has tightened supply and allowed prices to climb higher.
The source added that North American PVC makers have pulled back on exports in recent months to supply the domestic market. "The export market is not getting the amount of [PVC] resin that they want," the source said.