Prices drift lower following falling feedstock costs

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Low River Rhine water levels disrupted supply

In November, European standard thermoplastic prices, with the exception of polypropylene, were on a downward trend. Crude oil and naphtha costs have fallen sharply following a brief rally at the beginning of October. November feedstock contract prices also settled at a lower level, following a reduction in spot prices and upstream costs. 

The November ethylene and propylene contract prices each settled €10/tonne lower while the styrene monomer reference price plunged €170/tonne. Paraxylene, the key PET feedstock, saw a €77.5/tonne reduction in the November contract price, making for a combined cost reduction of €100/tonne over the last two months.

Initially, polymer sellers sought to widen margins by calling for either a price rollover or a small price increase. However, material was well supplied and buyers were prepared to wait before entering the market. As a result, most standard thermoplastic prices ended up at a lower level by end November.

In the polyethylene sector; LLDPE prices fell €15/tonne, LDPE prices moved down in line with ethylene costs and HDPE prices fell between €5-15/tonne. Polypropylene homopolymer film and copolymer injection prices were mostly rolled over, while PP homopolymer injection material saw a €10/tonne price reduction.

Polystyrene prices tumbled €135/tonne following a massive €170/tonne dive in the styrene monomer reference price. PVC base resin prices were either fixed at a rollover or fell €5/tonne, in line with the proportionate reduction in ethylene costs. Meanwhile, PET prices fell for the second consecutive month, down €70/tonne in November.

Supply balanced

There was generally sufficient polymer material available to meet demand without restriction. However, transport from the petrochemical cluster in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) region is being made more difficult by the shallow River Rhine. Production problems also mounted over the course of the month due to several unplanned plant outrages and strikes in France and Belgium.

The latest Industry supply-related developments are summarised below:

• Braskem declared force majeure on deliveries from its PP plant in Wesseling, Germany 5 December.

• LyondellBasell said that the larger of two crackers at its site in Wesseling, Germany site had a short "controlled shutdown due to a malfunction on 3 December.

• Indorama Ventures announced force majeure on PET shipments from the company's plant at Rotterdam, The Netherlands at end November.

• A strike affected Total's refinery sites in France since 21 November. The cracker-equipped locations in Gonfreville and Feyzin also reported outages as of 28 November. The strike was suspended on 30 November.

• French producer Kem One lifted the force majeure for PVC produced at its plant in Berre at end November.

• Vestolit declared force majeure on PVC supply from Marl, Germany on 12 November. Vestolit already had allocations in place in late October as a result of two key suppliers declaring force majeure.

• Sabic declared force majeure 7 November on PE from Gelsenkirchen, Germany due to inability to obtain raw materials. The shutdown of BP Refining & Petrochemicals' two crackers in Gelsenkirchen is likely impacting the problems in raw materials supply.

• Unipetrol announced on 6 November that it was unable to supply S-PVC due to parent company PKN Orlen's declaration of force majeure on olefins production.

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