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PP Resin Prices Up A Half Cent In July, While PS Slides 4 Cents

Polypropylene and polystyrene resins traveled different roads in North America in July, with PP rising slightly and PS taking a bit of a tumble.

Regional PP prices inched up an average of 0.5 cents per pound, according to buyers contacted byPlastics News. Prices for that material had been flat in June after sliding down 7.5 cents in May and 6 cents in April.

That two-month, 13.5-cent downturn came after prices rose an average of 20.5 cents in the first three months of the year. Looking ahead, regional PP prices in the second half of the year should be more stable than they were in the first half, according to Scott Newell, a PP market analyst with Resin Technology Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas.

"Polymer-grade propylene [monomer] was all over the place in the first half, and that had an effect on pricing," Newell said in an Aug. 9 phone interview. "Demand is doing OK, but that's been volatile as well."

Recent force majeure sales limits put in place by Formosa Plastics Corp. USA in Point Comfort, Texas, haven't had much effect on the North American PP market, he added. Formosa lifted those limits at the end of July.

Essentially, Newell explained, regional PP makers improved their profit margins in 2015 and early 2016, only to lose some of it in the remainder of that year. As a whole, however, those firms remain in better shape in mid-2017 than they were in 2014, he said.

North American PP sales weren't strong in the first half of 2017, increasing almost 1 percent vs. the same period in 2016. Domestic PP sales grew 1.3 percent in that period, while export sales slipped almost 11 percent.

Regional PP makers now are working on a 3-cent increase attempt effective August 1, but Newell said there's a chance that move could be pushed back to September.

PS prices drop

PS prices in North America tumbled by an average of 4 cents in July after being flat in June. Various buyers reported July declines ranging from 2 to 5 cents, but the 4-cent drop was seen by the largest number of buyers.

The July dip marks the third time in four months that regional PS prices have declined. Prices for the material had slid 2 cents in May and 5 cents in April. Prior to those declines, prices had increased by 6 cents in March.

The July PS slide was tied in to a 20-cent drop in price for benzene feedstock, which is used to make styrene monomer. North American benzene settled at $2.51 per gallon for the month. Market prices for both benzene and PS resin have been volatile so far in 2017.

"Benzene went crazy this year," RTI PS market analyst Robin Chesshier said Aug. 9. "There were refinery changeovers and more exports, and [PS] resin makers jumped all over it. But buyers naturally stopped buying when they thought prices were going to go higher, so prices swung back down."

PS makers "were too aggressive too fast, and that caused a lot of discontent in the market," she added.

Even with the recent price drops, North American PS prices are relatively high, Chesshier said, leading to increased competition from PP and PET resins and to higher interest in PS imported from South America and Asia.

Foreign PS is competing on price, according to Chesshier, and the regional market "has forced [PS] buyers to take a hard look at imports and to physically qualify those resins."

North American PS sales fell 1.5 percent in the first half of 2017. A domestic sales loss of 1.6 percent was softened a bit by a gain of more than 3 percent in export sales.

PS maker Americas Styrenics now is attempting to raise prices by 2 cents per pound effective Aug. 1.



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