The combination of COVID-19 and production outages have tightened supplies of polyethylene and polypropylene resins in 2020.
Market analysts Mike Burns and Scott Newell of Resin Technology Inc. explored markets for those materials as parts of Plastics News' Caps & Closures Conference.
"Plastics hit all points in the grocery chain," said Burns, who covers PE for Fort Worth, Texas-based RTI. "During COVID-19, polyethylene makers have replenished supplies as fast as they could.
"At first, there was strong essential demand, then nonessential demand for items like home improvement got stronger," he added.
Burns also said that strong export markets have led to lower PE inventory in North America. For 2020, 40 percent of PE made in North America is set to be exported, with robust sales to China.
Steady operating rates and some production outages also have allowed PE makers to raise prices by 14 cents per pound between June and August. Burns said the amount of that increase was "historic" for the summer months.
Although manufacturing restarts have been "stronger than expected" in 2020, Burns said domestic sales are up only 1 percent so far, while export sales have surged 20 percent.