Polystyrene was the only commodity resin to see higher prices in North America in May, gaining 2 cents after dropping 2 cents in April. The May increase was connected to higher prices for benzene feedstock, according to market sources contacted by Plastics News.
Market prices for benzene — which is used to make styrene monomer — were up 31 cents to $3.91 per gallon in May. That represents an increase of almost 9 percent. North American benzene prices now are up a total of 84 cents so far in 2023.
According to 2022 market data from the American Chemistry Council, North American PS sales were down 5.4 percent in 2022, with expanded PS sales down 1.5 percent. On the production side, PS was down 4.6 percent and EPS down 2.4 percent.
Polyethylene was the only commodity resin to see flat pricing in North America in May, but that didn't happen without a fight. PE makers and buyers battled back and forth for weeks, with a 3-cent price drop set to take hold, before prices settled flat for the month.
In a similar battle in April, PE buyers were able to prevent a 5-cent price hike from going through. Prices for all grades of high, low and linear low density PE had been up 3 cents in March, although that increase also was strongly resisted by buyers. PE prices are up a net of 6 cents so far in 2023.
In a recent research note, consulting firm Argus Media of London said that although many PE makers have announced increases of 3 cents for June contracts, buyers and some producers "have indicated that if demand remains as weak as it has been so far this year, it is more likely that prices will decline this month."
The report added that, in the U.S., polymers growth "has stagnated across the board, even as some sectors such as durables have been hit harder than others." It also said that, as consumer spending patterns have shifted, retailers "are struggling to manage inventories, which has left many U.S. plastic converters struggling to find their own correct inventory balance."