Material prices rise sharply
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Petrochemical feedstock contract prices have turned upward following a steady climb in crude oil and naphtha costs.
The ethylene contract price for January increased €40/tonne in response to rising naphtha costs and the weakness of the euro against the US dollar. PE producers responded by posting planned price increases in excess of the cost rise; ranging from €60/tonne to as much as €120/tonne to boost their flagging profit margins. In reality, producers only managed to gain price increases equivalent to the C2 cost rise.
Demand was lively during the first week of the new year as film converters topped up their inventories after the holidays. Buyers also realised that prices had bottomed out and were determined to get hold of material as early as possible. Supply is in now better balanced with most producers able to supply customers promptly.
With ethylene spot prices surging higher L/LDPE prices are widely predicted for February.
HDPE producers managed to push through price hikes in line with the €40/tonne rise in the cost of ethylene in January. Producers had planned to raise prices by much more than this to bolster their under pressure profit margins. However, they were at least satisfied that the decline in prices and margins seen over recent months had been halted.
HDPE demand was better than expected early January as converters restocked after the holidays. Material availability has shortened, with suppliers maintaining strict production controls but most were able to meet customer orders without too much delay. There was also no evidence of significantly cheaper imported material pressurising European notations due to the weak euro against the US dollar.
This month HDPE prices are expected to rise further as spot naphtha and ethylene costs continue to rise.
PP producers reacted to the €20/tonne rise in January C3 contract price with announcements of increases of up to €100/tonne.
While they argued that steep rises were necessary to compensate for loss of margin in recent months there was no realistic possibility that PP prices would respond as planned. Rather, notations increased more or less in line with the rise in feedstock costs.
As expected, PP demand was good during early January as converters rebuilt their inventories after the holidays.
Supply was better balanced with most players able to supply without much delay. However, Borealis called force majeure for C3 at its Kallo, Belgium site at the beginning of the year but this has so far not caused much disruption to PP availability.
This month, propylene, and hence PP prices, are predicted to rise further.
PS prices surged in January after a more than expected leap in benzene, and hence styrene monomer (SM), costs. The January benzene contract price shot up by €192/tonne with the SM reference price up by €120/tonne. PS producers responded to the cost rise by calling for price increases of up to €145/tonne. However, producers had not managed much margin gain by mid-month and had to settle for just passing through the increase in the cost base.
Demand was slow and rather patchy during early January trading as a number of converters restarted much later than others after the holiday period. However, order activity was predicted to get better as the month progressed.
There was sufficient material available to supply customers in full and on time, despite some producers reducing output following the SM cost surge.
With the ethylene contract price rising by €40/tonne PVC producers announced planned price increases of up to €60/tonne in January. The price target included a proportionate €20/tonne to cover the ethylene cost rise plus an element for margin improvement. Few major contracts had been settled by mid-month but the few that had been agreed were more or less in line with the cost increase.
Demand was better than expected during the first half of January as converters rebuilt their inventories after the holiday break.
Material availability was more balanced following strict production and stock control measures implemented at producers.
PVC sellers are hoping that a combination of stronger demand, lower surplus stocks and lower import volumes as a result of the weak euro will support higher price rises at the end of month contract negotiations.
European bottle-grade PET prices increased sharply in January following three months of declining notations. The key PET feedstock, paraxylene (PX), soared by €80/tonne as a result of higher naphtha and weakness of the Euro. Monoethylene glycol (MEG) also increased, rising by €44/tonne to €1,024/tonne. The impact of feedstock cost increases on the PET cost was assessed at between €65-70/tonne.
PET producers managed to push through price increases slightly ahead of the cost rise. The weak euro deterred Asian imports, demand was stronger than expected and supply is not as long as it was after producers had reduced plant operating rates.
Converters are restocking ahead of the bottle-making season as their inventories were run down during the last quarter. There are also indications that PX costs are likely to rise further in February, which initiated pre-buying.
Autor: By David K Platt