Prices under pressure from sluggish demand and rising import volumes

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In October, polyethylene and polypropylene producers were unable to pass on the €10/tonne and €20/tonne respective increases in ethylene and propylene costs due mainly to weak demand. Import pressure even led to some price reductions in some sectors. Polystyrene prices fell by just less than the €70/tonne reduction in the styrene monomer costs, while PVC compound prices increased slightly. PET prices fell €45/tonne despite a sharp overall net cost rise of €187.5/tonne over the last two months.

Buyer resistance forced sellers of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) to grant discounts at the top end of the price range in October despite the small increase of €10/tonne in the ethylene contract price. Prices ta the lower end of the range fell slightly. Linear low-density polyethylene prices (LLDPE) declined €20/tonne across the board due largely to much higher availability around the world. Competitively-priced imported shipments, both from the US and the Middle East, were keeping European LLDPE prices under pressure. L/LDPE demand was at normal levels.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) blown film and injection moulding prices largely rolled over during October in balanced markets. However, blow moulding prices fell €15-20/tonne due to growing supply pressure. While European HDPE producers maintained production controls to avoid a build-up of excess stock, HDPE blow moulding supply was bolstered by imported material. There were some production bottlenecks in blown film supply from Eastern Europe. Overall, HDPE demand was fairly steady throughout the month.

Polypropylene producers were largely unable to pass through the €20/tonne rise in the October propylene contract price onto customers last month. Homopolymer injection and homopolymer film grades saw small price increases in the order of €5/tonne with copolymer injection prices €10/tonne higher than the previous month. PP sellers’ attempts to raise prices further were constrained by continued sluggish demand. Material availability trended lower as a result of planned and unplanned plant shutdowns. Also, the low water levels on the River Rhine led to shipping restrictions and logistical constraints.

The roller coaster ride in polystyrene (PS) prices continued into October with prices last month on a downward slide. Most PS producers did not pass on in full the €70/tonne reduction in the styrene monomer reference price with general-purpose PS notations falling €60-65/tonne. Polystyrene production was particularly impacted by the low water levels and shipping restrictions along the River Rhine. BASF, for example, put PS on allocation. Demand was lower than normal as buyers speculated on a further price reduction in November.

While base PVC contracts were mostly rolled over during October, plasticised PVC compounds saw small gains while unplasticised compound prices dipped slightly. Various supply disruptions affected the PVC sector last month. Vestolit announced allocations – prompted by force majeure declarations at two main suppliers due to the shallow River Rhine. Kem One also declared force majeure on its production in Berre, France. BASF’s declaration of force majeure on plasticisers due to the low water levels of the River Rhine led to firming plasticiser prices. Meanwhile, PVC demand was better last month compared with subdued sales in September.

Despite the delayed September paraxylene contract price only settling in early October with a sharp increase of €210/tonne, and the October paraxylene contract price down by €22.5/tonne, European polyethylene terephthalate (PET) prices declined in October. The European bottle-making season is coming to an end and demand for PET resin is slowing down. On the supply side, there were several planned plant maintenance programmes in operation but overall material availability was reasonably good. Competitively-priced Asian imports were starting to be seen in larger volumes.

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