It’s not just polypropylene prices that are on the rise this year. Prices for solid polystyrene also climbed an average of 5 cents per pound in January, and prices for nylon 6 and 6/6 resins are under upward pricing pressure as well.
The 10-cent PP hike is a sharp reversal from a combined 11.5 cents in price drops that market had seen in the last three months of 2016.
The PetroChem Wire consulting firm in Houston said that propylene prices in December did not reflect a tight market, because the situation was masked by year-end destocking. When demand resurfaced in January, propylene buyers found they had to pay dramatically higher prices.
PetroChem Wire added that the run-up in propylene costs caught PP buyers off guard and caused some to lower their order volumes for January.
The 5-cent PS hike for January wasn’t completely unexpected, as prices for benzene feedstock had climbed for two straight months. North American benzene prices shot up 33 cents to $2.67 per gallon. Prices for that material also had increased 11 cents in December, but the market couldn’t settle on an increase amount for PS resin.
As a result, regional PS prices were flat in December. PS prices in the region had fallen 2 cents per pound in November after being flat in October. Several factors have caused benzene prices to move up by almost 20 percent in the last two months, according to Robin Chesshier, a market analyst with RTI.
Those reasons include tight supplies, lack of imports, stronger demand, pull from higher prices in other regions and a move from oil-based naphtha back to natural gas-based ethane as a precursor. Ethane produces less benzene per unit than naphtha does.
PS maker Americas Styrenics LLC now is seeking an increase of 8 cents per pound effective Feb. 1. North American PS sales for full-year 2016 essentially were flat at just under 4.4 billion pounds, according to ACC. But the largest end market — food packaging and food service — saw sales growth of 1.3 percent, to more than 2.7 billion pounds.
Pending increases for nylon
The North American nylon resin market also is facing upward pricing pressure. BASF AG has announced increases of 28 cents per pound for nylon 6 resins since Jan. 1. The firm also planned to increase prices for compounds based on those materials by 7 cents per pound on Jan. 30. That affects compounds sold under the Ultramid, Capron and Nypel brand names.
Solvay Group is increasing global prices for its Stabamid nylon 6/6 resins and Technyl nylon 6 and 6/6 compounds by an average of 15 cents per pound. Officials with Brussels-based Solvay announced the move Jan. 23. In a news release, they said that the dramatic rise of raw materials costs is affecting the entire nylon value chain.
Solvay Performance Polyamides President Vincent Kamel said that despite “considerable efforts” to offset cost pressures since mid-2016, Solvay “is now compelled to increase price levels globally to remain a reliable and long-term partner for our customers.”
DuPont Co. on Feb. 2 announced global price increases of 13-14 cents per pound on all Zytel nylon 6/6 resins and compounds effective Feb. 15. In a news release, officials said the increases “are needed as a result of rapidly rising costs of certain key raw materials.”
One market watcher said the BASF price move was “too aggressive” and that the firm already was seeing “market pushback.
“The producers will get something, but how much will need to be negotiated,” the contact said. Some nylon 6 and 6/6 buyers saw price hikes in January, but most are expecting hikes of 5-8 cents per pound to take hold by the end of February. No changes are being shown on this week’s Plastics News resin pricing chart.
North American nylon 6 resin prices already had climbed an average of 10 cents per pound since August, due in part to tightness of caprolactam feedstock. BASF in September announced plans to remove more than 200 million pounds of annual caprolactam production in Europe by early 2018.
Higher benzene prices also are putting upward price pressure on nylon resins, market watchers said.