The PE market has not been the only one to see volatility in recent months. There was no summer vacation for North American commodity prices in July.
Average selling prices for solid polystyrene, polypropylene and PET bottle resins each increased during July, mainly as a result of higher feedstock prices.
PVC was the only commodity resin that saw a peaceful month in July, with prices remaining flat.
Solid PS prices saw the largest July hike, moving up by an average of 2 cents per pound. That move was tied to a 14 percent price hike for benzene, which is used to make styrene monomer. Benzene prices for July were up 33 cents to $2.67 per gallon.
Regional PS prices had been flat in May and June after moving up 4 cents in April. Domestic PS demand showed growth of around 1 percent in the first half of 2019, market watchers told Plastics News, with gains in consumer products and electrical/electronic applications.
In PS production, Total Petrochemicals is preparing to close an older production line in Carville, La. But the company has said that the output of that line will be replaced by newer lines at the site. If that transition occurs, there should be little or no impact on North American PS supplies.
A 1-cent price hike for PP in July was impacted by upward movement in price for polymer-grade propylene monomer. Prices for PP had been down 4 cents in June, canceling out a 4-cent price hike from May. Prior to those moves, a series of declines from November through March had sent PP prices tumbling 24.5 cents.
Market watchers now are concerned about the potential impact of a July 31 explosion and fire at a major propylene site operated by ExxonMobil Chemical Co. in Baytown, Texas. Forty-one people were injured in that accident, but none seriously.
ExxonMobil's Baytown site also has PP resin production, which apparently was not affected by the incident. But sources said PP markets could be impacted if propylene production from Baytown, which was more than 1 billion pounds per year, remains out for any length of time.
Tighter propylene supplies could give PP makers leverage to raise prices. Market sources said that PP makers might welcome that opportunity, especially since domestic PP demand hasn't been strong so far in 2019.
PET bottle resin also saw a 1-cent upward move in July. That move mainly was tied into higher feedstock prices. The July increase reversed a surprising trend that had seen prices for that material fall by 2 cents in June and by a total of 6 cents in the April-June period, when demand for bottled water and carbonated soft drinks typically is high.
Market sources said the domestic PET market remains well oversupplied, with bottled water usage attempting to make up for ongoing declines in soft drink demand.