North American resin distributors are seeing a bit more uncertainty than in prior years, even as their sales volumes continue to grow.
"We've had a solid year, but it's not setting any great records," said Kevin Chase, president of Chase Plastic Services Inc. in Clarkston, Mich. "There's something happening in the manufacturing sector. It's kind of like it's taking a pause because of inventory adjustments or other factors."
His firm's demand from the automotive market is "down slightly, but OK," while demand from the industrial sector is "still doing a fairly nice job," Chase added.
M. Holland Co. of Northbrook, Ill., is on track to see high single-digit gains for sales volume in pounds this year, according to business development manager Brad Holland.
"Automotive was strong at first, but it's slowing down," he said. "But in medical and health care, wire and cable, and food and beverage packaging, there's been no drop-off. Construction and agricultural equipment also have been areas of growth."
In the first half of 2019, sales at the distribution unit of PolyOne Corp. of Avon Lake, Ohio, were down 2 percent to just under $624 million. But the unit's gross margin and operating income each were up more than 7 percent.
Distribution was the largest of PolyOne's four business units in the first half, generating 33 percent of sales before eliminations. The unit also brought in 19 percent of the firm's operating income.
"Both volume and revenue are down slightly vs. prior year due to mix and declining prices," Distribution President Scott Horn said in an email. "Our operating income is up over 2018 due to prudent cost management and sales mix, which is showing increased demand for higher value, specialty materials."
PolyOne Distribution's strongest markets continue to be health care, outdoor high performance, building and construction, packaging and industrial, Horn added. "In line with many of our suppliers, we are seeing challenges due to destocking, consumer uncertainty and demand reduction in automotive, appliance and consumer markets," he added.
Jamplast Inc. of Ellisville, Mo., "has been in a growth phase for the last 18 months, although we've seen some challenges in the last seven months or so," said President Michael Bernich.
Mike Pignataro also has seen decent growth results at Bamberger Polymers of Jericho, N.Y., with sales in pounds up 6-7 percent, just slightly behind last year's growth rate.
But Pignataro — the firm's North American sales vice president — thinks uncertainty will continue, due in part to "a sloppy market" for polyethylene resin, with little consistency from month to month in supply and demand.
The picture was brighter at General Polymers Thermoplastic Materials LLC, an Auburn Hills, Mich.-based firm that's in its third year of operation. "Our year has been phenomenal," President Greg Boston said. "We're up four times over last year, but I guess some people would still consider us a startup."
He added that GP has seen demand growth across the board, including in automotive, construction and nonauto transportation such as heavy truck and recreational vehicles. "We're heavily involved in compounded polyolefins, nylon and elastomers, and there are still a lot of good fits in flexible PVC," Boston said.
"There's somewhere around 5,000 injection molders in North America, so we still have plenty of targets to go after," he added.
At PolySource Inc. in Independence, Mo., the firm has seen continued growth in existing industrial markets, including material handling and friction applications, according to CEO Grant John.
Conventus Polymers LLC of Parsippany, N.J., also has had "a strong year," according to co-owner John Jorgensen III. "Our sales are up high double digits, even though we've had some challenges," he said. "I'm optimistic about our organization. May and June were slow, but July was one of our best months ever."
Jorgensen cited electrical, plumbing, sporting goods, and oil and gas as growth areas for his firm, with electrical maybe being the strongest because of sales into connectors, switches and appliances.
Osterman & Co. of Cheshire, Conn., also has seen continued growth, with 2019 volume in pounds up double digits, said Distribution Sales Vice President Dave Dever. He listed several factors behind that growth, including some new additions to the firm's sales staff.
At Nexeo Solutions Plastics LLC of The Woodlands, Texas, 2019 sales growth has been slower than 2018 for reasons that include the U.S./China trade conflict and geopolitical instability, according to Executive Vice President Shawn Williams.
"We do see positive momentum in health care, compounding, wire and cable and with new polyethylene capacity in North America," he said. "We've also seen good results with specialty compounds for high-end applications."
Vinmar Polymers America of Houston — a new division of Vinmar International Ltd. that was established in August 2018 — has set sales records every month, with its largest growth in films, liquid and rigid packaging and consumer products, said President Kirt Dmytruk.
2019 "has been a strong year" for MGI International LLC of Melville, N.Y., according to CEO Marco Liuzzo. "We've seen double-digit growth in our overall volumes, which are on track to well exceed a billion pounds this year," he said. "The biggest driver has been our North American exports to all regions."