February 2023: Resin prices rise for polyethylene and PET
Despite a lack of demand, regional prices for polyethylene and bottle pet resin rose a few cents in February. These increases come after a drop of 3 cents in January and are mostly due to less demand, according to market sources Plastics News talked to.
Both products are expected to remain under downward pressure in the new year, thanks to higher capacity coming online at the same time as weaker economic growth and concerns about a recession. Among other factors, higher feedstock costs are also keeping prices low.
Plastic resin are a major building block for products such as containers, liners, and films. They're used for a variety of purposes, including food, beverage, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical packaging.
The most widely used plastic resin is polyethylene (PE), which offers high tensile strength and stress resistance. It can be manufactured using injection molding or extrusion technology. It's also a good electrical insulator and is non-toxic to humans, animals, and the environment.
PET is a thermoplastic plastic that can be melted at high temperatures, making it ideal for a variety of applications. The material is also strong and can withstand chemicals, acids, and caustic solutions.
It is a common alternative to glass in the production of beverages, particularly soft drinks and juices. It is also used to make bottles and other types of consumer products, such as buckets and bins.
Prices for PE were up 4 cents per pound in February. PVC was up 3 cents, and solid PS and PET bottle resin were up an average of 2 cents, according to market sources contacted by Plastics News.
Meanwhile, PP prices slipped 6 cents. The dip is due to weaker demand, slowed production at PET plants in the United States, and imports from Asia priced 20–30% lower than domestic production costs.
While some producers are beginning to expand their production capacity, high inflation and recession fears are weakening their demand outlooks. These factors are expected to keep PP prices flat through the first half of 2023.
As for PET, prices have been rising steadily over the past nine months, with most buyers seeing price hikes of 13 cents or more since September. The 2-cent hike in February was the latest in a string of price increases that will likely continue through 2022, when it is estimated that the global supply of PET will be about 35% higher than it is now.
Also, the market for recycled PET (rPET) is growing, and Evergreen, a company that recycles plastics, plans to increase its production by about 48% in June when it finishes making improvements to its Clyde, Ohio, facility.
Resins are a key building block for a wide range of products and have become more expensive over the past year due to tighter supplies. Hurricanes on the Gulf Coast and ongoing logistics issues have made it tough for suppliers to get their products onto the market. These challenges will continue through the winter and into the second quarter of 2023, says S&P Global Chemical Economics analyst Sam Suman.
PP polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer that can be molded into different shapes. It is widely used for plastic bottles, containers, and fittings. Its strength, high heat deflection temperature, and stiffness make it suitable for a wide range of applications. It also has a relatively low cost and can be manufactured at scale.
It is made by stringing together propylene monomers. It can be melted into bricks or pellets, which are then formed into various plastic forms. PP is one of the most commonly used plastics in the world, and it is available in many different grades and colors.
As with most resins, PP has been affected by rising global oil prices and weaker US dollars. The two factors have pushed prices higher since March, and they have caused producers to run reactors at reduced rates to reduce surplus resin inventories.
Resin prices were mostly flat last week, but spot PP prices advanced $0.02/lb. This brings the January total to $0.08/lb, according to The Plastics Exchange.
This is a fairly large increase in spot PP costs, and it reflects the fact that producers ran their reactors harder in January than they did in December. They also drew down their on-hand resin inventory, boosting spot resin costs.
The February 2023 price increase for PP was driven by rising monomer costs, the Plastics Exchange reports. The increase is the first of the year, and it is likely to stay in place.
In addition to higher monomer costs, the PP market is still reeling from a number of production disruptions related to winter storm Elliott in December. PE and PP makers issued force majeures at a number of their assets, which has kept supply tight, the Plastics Exchange says.
Nonetheless, demand for PP has been stronger than it has been in months. The material is used in a variety of products, including plastic toys, stationery folders, and storage boxes.
It is important to note that a number of additives and stabilizers must be added to polypropylene to make it suitable for different uses. These include stabilizers, polymerizers, and fillers that help the material form its final shape.
January PE resin contracts settled up $0.03/lb, and February increases averaging $0.06/lb are on the table. PP and PET prices are up, too.
Polystyrene is a versatile plastic used in everything from food packaging to medical devices and heart valves. It is a strong material that has long been favored for its chemical stability. But, as of late, manufacturers are facing a severe shortage.
Several factors are contributing to the resin shortfall. First, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected production facilities, shipping ports, and supply chain logistics. Consequently, producers are unable to meet customers’ demands.
Second, international trade issues are impacting the supply of some resins. The recent spike in shipping costs from Asia has eroded import arbitrage opportunities, which is driving up the price of resins that are being imported into America. Moreover, the EU’s tightening of its customs regulations has resulted in significant delays in plastic resin exports to the US.
Third, the depreciation of the dollar has weighed on resin prices. Fortunately, this should stall for the time being, according to Phil Karig of Mathelin Bay Associates in St. Louis, Missouri.
While the global market picture has improved, it is still difficult to gauge whether demand for these plastics will continue to increase. However, if a surge in demand for these materials does take place in the next few months, the market may see another upward push in resin prices.
The latest data shows that both low-density PE production and domestic sales rebounded from December levels, while exports remained somewhat subdued. These two resin groups also posted relatively small inventory builds in January.
These trends have contributed to the sharp increase in resin prices this year. Some suppliers have hiked prices based on an uptick in benzene prices.
Other producers, however, are pushing back on these hikes. They feel that a recent uptick in benzene prices has only created a limited number of new buyers for their products, and there is not enough new supply to offset the increase in demand.
Fortunately, the resin industry has found ways to mitigate some of the downsides of higher resin prices. For example, suppliers have started up a new capacity in the U.S., which should ease the pressure on resin prices in 2023. Nevertheless, many resin markets are still lagging behind global demand. The key is to find ways to increase supply and improve supply-chain logistics.
The clear plastic resin that is commonly used to make drink bottles has jumped up in price after a tax on imported material was reinstated last year. A number of reasons for this include higher raw material costs, production issues, and increased export sales. But there are also some positives, including a boost for US bottle producers.
PET spot pricing jumped in Europe, mainly driven by raw material costs and a tightening supply environment. However, this trend hasn't been reflected in the contract market.
This is because logistics are still limiting disparities between PP and propylene monomer versus PX and MEG, according to ICIS's PET Price Index (PIE). As such, deltas based on feedstock will remain unchanged in 2021, and prices are now well below the freely negotiated volumes.
European PET producers are facing a challenging Q1 with weak demand and fresh import arrivals, driving production cuts. While some have already written off the first quarter, others are moving more aggressively on spot pricing in the hopes of closing the gap with imports in Q2.
The European PET price index rose by 1% in January and is now down 7% for the year, compared to June 2021 levels. Even though demand in Europe as a whole is still low, the rise in consumer confidence is good news for the future of this industry.
In the short term, the coronavirus pandemic has boosted demand for drinking straws, medical supplies, and other products. But the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, and hurricanes and other bad weather are making it hard to get resin.
While the US's domestic petrochemical industry has been able to take advantage of low Chinese import prices to compete, Asian export competition is expected to intensify this year and into 2022. Because of this, European resin makers could be in for a long period of low profits and cuts to production.
Despite these challenges, Europe's PET resin market is projected to expand by 1.9% in 2023, with bottle and container applications set to drive the growth. This is due to the lightweight of beverage containers as well as a shift in consumer preferences toward lower-carbonated beverages and the use of recycled PET (rPET) materials.