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PE and ABS prices up in March, PET slightly down

After some deliberation, North American polyethylene resin prices ticked up by an average of 3 cents per pound in March.

Regional ABS prices also rose in March, while PET bottle resin prices saw a slight decrease.

Initial reports indicated that the full 6 cents that PE makers had been seeking would take hold. Then it appeared for a brief time that market prices would roll over flat vs. February. Producers and buyers finally split the difference, moving prices up 3 cents and announcing plans to try for the other 3 cents in April.

A combination of events allowed the 3-cent hike to stick, according to Mike Burns, a market analyst with the Resin Technology Inc. consulting firm in Fort Worth, Texas.

“There were low prices in November and high exports in December,” he said. “Then there was restocking in January. This all lined up to reduce [PE] supply.”

Supply also was limited by production issues experienced by several resin makers, including Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. CP Chem on March 13 declared force majeure on high density PE because of a power outage at its plant in Orange, Texas.

“Since we’re not feedstock-driven on polyethylene in North America, price increases always are supply-driven,” Burns added.

The March hike was the second consecutive monthly increase for regional PE prices, following a 5-cent January hike. Prices had been flat in January, after falling an average of 2 cents per pound in December. They were up a net of 4 cents for full-year 2016.

U.S./Canadian sales of low and linear low density PE came charging out of the gate in the first two months of 2017, with HDPE trailing behind. Two-month sales of LDPE were up 7 percent, according to the American Chemistry Council. Domestic LDPE sales growth of almost 3 percent was boosted by an increase of almost 21 percent in export sales.

US/Canadian LLDPE sales through February were up almost 7 percent, as 10 percent domestic sales growth was lessened by a 4 percent drop in export sales. HDPE in the region managed two-month sales growth of almost 1 percent, with domestic sales growth of almost 8 percent wiped out by a 21 percent drop in export sales.

ABS, PET changes

Regional ABS prices jumped an average of 6 cents per pound in March, after being up 8 cents in February. Prices for the material are being driven up by higher prices for acrylonitrile and butadiene feedstocks, as well as higher prices for benzene, which is used to make styrene monomer. ABS makers now are seeking further increases of 5 cents per pound for April.

PET bottle resin prices headed in the other direction, ticking down an average of 0.5 cents per pound for March. The March drop ends a steak of six consecutive monthly price increases for the material. The decline reflects lower prices for feedstocks such as paraxylene and purified terephthalic acid. The six previous increases had have totaled 9.5 cents per pound.

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