The trajectory of prices of the five volume commodity PVC resin powder was upward through September; but starting last month, a reversal was underway for most of these resins, possibly excepting PE and PVC. Factors in the continued flat-to-downward trajectory for PP, PS and PET included expectations of improved supply availability, lower feedstock prices, slowed seasonal demand, and loss of export opportunities due to higher prices. Factors maintaining strong pricing for PE and PVC, at least in the short term, included strong demand and tight monomer and polymer supplies brought on by planned and unplanned production shutdowns.
These are the views of purchasing consultants from calcium carbide method pvc resin, Inc. (RTi), senior editors from PetroChemWire (PCW), and CEO Michael Greenberg of The Plastics Exchange.
Polyethylene prices moved up 5¢/lb in September, capping the fourth consecutive month of price hikes, bringing the total to an unprecedented 19¢/lb. Suppliers also came out with a fifth increase—another 5¢/lb—for October, owing primarily to continued strong demand and tight supplies, made tighter following precautionary shutdowns for Hurricane Laura in late August.
Mike Burns, RTi’s v.p. of PE markets, held that PE prices would stay firm, with the October hike—if not implemented right away—hanging over discussions with customers for the remainder of the year, due to sustained demand and tight inventories. PCW’s senior editor David Barry said he would not be surprised if suppliers stuck to their increases, but expected processors would have better leverage this month and in December in the negotiation of 2021 contracts. With the exception of HDPE blow molding grades, where a real shortage occurred, processors were able to get what they needed, but went through it faster than anticipated, noted Burns.
PE Price Trends November 2020
Both Burns and Barry ventured that a slow recovery of tight suspension method pvc resin inventories was already underway at the start of the fourth quarter, which ought to help ease price pressure in first quarter of 2021. Going into October, The Plastic Exchange’s Greenberg reported that while demand for spot PE had been good, processors generally opted for just single truckloads, and a whisper of uncertainty had crept into the market. “The fourth quarter often brings softer demand and could provide the market an opportunity to rebalance especially when downed plants return fully online and new reactors begin production,” he commented.
PP Prices Up, Then Flat to Down
Polypropylene prices moved up 3¢/lb in September, despite stability in propylene monomer contract prices, which remained at August’s 36¢/lb level. Moreover, PP suppliers announced another 3¢/lb “profit-margin increase” for October, a move that looked to be at least partially successful due to tight supply and some rebound in domestic demand, according to Scott Newell, RTi’s v.p. of PP markets, as well as PCW’s Barry, and The Plastic Exchange’s Greenberg. All three saw the recent upward trajectory halting, if not reversing.
Newell ventured that suppliers’ attempted margin expansions in September and October would erode between mid-month and December. “Suppliers have had leverage all this time owing to unplanned and planned monomer and PP outages, and low capacity utilization overall (around 83%). But the longer buyers can wait to order for 2021, the better. I expect quite a few pounds of PP and monomer capacity to be brought on stream in that time frame.”
PCW’s Barry reported that while suppliers were seeking to boost their margins further in October, there were already signs that high PP prices were crimping demand for price-sensitive products such as PP tubs and totes, which depend heavily on “big-box” retail channels. He cited factors such as slower demand, rising PP imports and improving operating rates in the fourth quarter that could bring a turnabout in the PP supply situation in late November into December.
Reporting that spot PP demand was strong, supply was scarce, and prices were holding steady, Greenberg noted, “Our outlook has been moving from bullish back towards neutral as we feel there is some froth in spot pricing; still, industry inventories are at a historically low level and need to be rebuilt from a deep trough.”