Most grades of polyethylene added $0.01/lb, on the spot market, some more, while spot polypropylene tacked on another $0.03/lb, as January came to a close and February began. Spot-trading platform, The Plastics Exchange (TPE) said resin offers slowed and prices moved higher last week as buyers actively sought well-priced material ahead of February increases. By the middle of last week, offers for unsold railcars were generally pulled back and later replaced with higher priced material for February shipment, according to TPE CEO Michael Greenberg. Producers implemented January price increases, with contracts moving $0.05/lb higher while PP shot up $0.15/lb. Greenberg said that tight monomer supplies have producers pushing for even more in February: PE is nominated to climb another $0.04/lb, while PP could rise as much as $0.09/lb.
Energy markets moved in opposite directions. March crude oil futures resumed their rally, reaching above $98/bbl before slipping back and ending the week at $97.77/bbl, a gain of $1.89/bbl. Natural gas futures continued lower, falling $0.162/mmBtu, almost 5%, to settle at $3.301/mmBtu last Friday. The crude oil: natural gas ratio shot out to almost 30:1, the widest gap since September.
Ethylene spot transactions were plentiful last week and the market actually gave back some gains for a change. Another cracker returned to production, but several remain offline for maintenance. February ethylene stepped lower in a series of trades, with most changing hands at $0.64/lb, down almost $0.03/lb. The drop in prices flattened the forward curve a bit; $0.005/lb discounts begin in March and accelerate starting in June until a $0.09/lb break is priced into the market for December. Ethane jumped a couple cents to around $0.26/gal ($0.11/lb).
Polyethylene's (PE) spot market moved higher, as most grades added $0.01/lb, some more. HDPE injection remains scarce and there was also particular strength in Prime LDPE film where premiums have expanded. Producers are looking to add to their $0.05/lb January contract gains with a $0.04/lb increase on the table for February. "To keep upward pressure on the market," Greenberg said, "some producers have issued another $0.04/lb for March." Houston traders have plenty of material on hand since rising U.S. prices have dried up the export market for now. "Incremental export demand could return after the Chinese New Year next weekend," Greenberg said, adding that "rising crude oil prices are also buoying international PE prices."
Propylene's spot market "breathed a little as January came to a close", according to TPE. That respite came after a swift and steep rally in which prices rose almost $0.20/lb since mid-December. Several spot transactions were reported and by the time the week drew to a close, February polymer grade propylene (PGP) had slid $0.02/lb to $0.755/lb. While it was not a huge decline, it came at an important time as contract discussions heat up. February nominations were revised up from $0.07/lb to $0.09/lb, but perhaps the recent weakness will soften the ultimate blow. The forward curve is backwardated but flattened a couple cents through December, where a $0.065/lb discount is priced from prompt levels.
Polypropylene (PP) added another $0.03/lb last week, bringing January gains to $0.13/lb. The market then moved a penny higher on Friday. "Up, up and away," Greenberg noted. "You'd have to be a Superman to withstand this rally and the end is not in sight." Spot PP prices have now eclipsed their previous 52 week high of $0.82/lb by a couple cents and are poised to move even higher as the contract market will tack on another increase in February. Current nominations are for as much as $0.09/lb, after January contracts rocketed up $0.15/lb. "Processors that weren't believers in early January," Greenberg said, "were buyers late in the month trying to get ahead of the next increase."
Final thought from Michael Greenberg
Resin buyers are reluctantly getting used to this higher price level, but it is still a moving target with more upside ahead. The markets were jolted in January by unexpected monomer-restricting cracker outages that arrived before the heavy turnaround season even began. It is now well underway, but will last for a few more months. The market might smell it coming ahead of time, but it is still too early. Momentum will carry spot prices higher in February and producers will look to implement contract price increases. Export activity could surge mid-month after the Chinese New Year adding a competitive outlet for material if surpluses begin to develop.