Weekly resin report: Polypropylene prices creep up, with additional gains on the horizon

Resin trading slowed last week, as a large number of market participants were busy at NPE2018 in Orlando, FL, including the entire trading team from the PlasticsExchange (Chicago). While new supply channels were being developed at the massive plastics industry event, there was relatively little prompt trading to be done, writes the PlasticsExchange in its Market Update. “We have been finding the middle market (distributors, resellers/traders, exporters) to be very light on inventory, as the general consensus has been for spot polyethylene (PE) prices to slide further,” writes the resin clearinghouse. “Prompt polypropylene (PP) availability has also been tight, as there is just not that much material to be had. The bright spot was seen in PE exports, with good demand seen from Mexico/Latin America and, notably, now from China.”

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Despite a large number of market participants visiting NPE last week, spot PE trading did show signs of life. Perhaps it was the face-to-face meetings or cheaper pricing starting to appear, but transacted volumes, particularly late in the week, were better than expected during the week of the show, according to the PlasticsExchange. Market talk continued to focus on an anticipated downside in pricing; indeed, lower levels were seen in Houston.

Linear low-density PE butene remained the weakest grade, losing more than a penny last week, while high-density for blowmolding and low-density for film each shaved a half-cent. The other commodity PE grades held steady, with the exception of high-density injection, which actually garnered a slight gain. A $0.03/lb contract price increase remains on the table for May, although at this point, it seems unlikely given healthy upstream margins and ever-building producer inventories.

The PP market was also slower, as much of the industry converged on Orlando for NPE. Overall PP supply/demand dynamics remain balanced to tight, with no new supply on its way, other than imports, to satisfy any increase in demand. Although April PGP contracts slid a cent, producers kept contract levels steady, earning the first penny of their mostly $0.04/lb margin increase. The market seemed poised for further margin gains in March, but the recent nickel run-up in PGP prices might steal the thunder.

Either way, higher PP prices are starting to come through and additional gains remain on the horizon. The low end of the Houston market has already ratcheted up two to three cents and scarce domestic railcars have been quoting $0.03 to 0.04/lb higher in May.

Read the full Market Update on the PlasticsExchange website.

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