Polymer price rollovers predominate in subdued markets

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Polymer producers are expected to announce price increases this month

In February, European standard thermoplastic markets were calm with ample supply and very little impetus on the demand side.

As a result, most polymer classes saw limited price development. Polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC prices mostly registered a rollover in line with ethylene costs or even a modest fall. Polystyrene prices rebounded to rise by slightly more than the €25/tonne increase in styrene monomer costs.

PET prices registered a weak rollover despite a €20/tonne rise in the cost base on subdued demand.

Polymer producers are expected to announce price increases this month following the rise in raw material contract prices. The March ethylene contract price settled €30/tonne higher, propylene €25/tonne higher and styrene monomer was up €60/tonne.

In February, low-density and linear low-density polyethylene (L/LDPE) prices rolled over in line with the ethylene contract price. The overall market position was well balanced. Demand was in line with seasonal expectations and supply slowly returned to more normal levels. Most polymer plants operated without interruption. Sabic, which had called force majeure on deliveries of LDPE from its plant in Wilton, UK 11 February, resumed normal production later in the month. A €30/tonne rise in the March ethylene contract price points to an upward price trend this month.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) blow moulding and injection moulding prices rolled over in tandem with the ethylene contract price while blown film prices saw a weak rollover. There was a reasonable volume of material available with most plants operating as normal. Demand was quite slow to develop but picked up later in the month when it became clear that March prices would likely rise.

Polypropylene (PP) producers called for small price hikes in February despite a rollover for the propylene contract price. However, a combination of weak demand more than countered the tight supply. Producers were forced to offer small discounts for homopolymer film and homopolymer injection product while copolymer injection moulding prices remained unchanged from February levels. Demand recovered later in the month when it became clear that PP producers would likely call for higher prices in March.

February polystyrene prices rebounded from a four-year low in January as a result of rising feedstock costs, tight supply and good demand. The February styrene monomer reference price was fully settled at €995/tonne, up €25/tonne over January. General-purpose polystyrene prices followed with gains of €20-40/tonne. Demand was supported by market expectations of firming March prices which boosted pre-buying activity with buyers eager to secure additional volume before further price increases were announced. Meanwhile, PS supply remained low and further regional cracker maintenance turnarounds are imminent.

PVC prices rolled over last month in tandem with the ethylene contract price. Producers’ plans to hold prices at February levels was supported by rising global PVC prices, which reduced the inflow of imported material. Local supply was good, although PVC producer Inovyn declared force majeure at its Martorell plant in Spain early February. Demand was no better than in January but warmer weather should herald an upswing from March onward. UK companies were still buying briskly and building up stocks ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit.

In February, the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) cost base increased by around €20/tonne following an increase of €45/tonne for the paraxylene contract price and a reduction of €30/tonne for the monoethylene glycol (MEG) contract price. Initially, PET producers attempted to increase prices in line with their cost base. However, the outcome was mixed, but on the whole, PET prices registered a small reduction. Demand was weaker than usual for the time of year. However, there was a modest upswing late February as costs edged higher and the weather improved. European production plants were running without interruption and there was less import pressure.

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