Price Know-How:
April 2022

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Overview

Surging monomer costs bring upward pressure to polymer prices.

The significant hikes in contract monomer prices have surprised the market, with most observers referencing the fact that crude oil prices have ended the month close to where they were at the beginning. However, the situation is not all about the crude oil price and as is now apparent, crude oil is not necessarily a good proxy for energy costs when much of that energy is derived from natural gas, of which Russia is a key source of supply.

This is because the logistics of moving gas around the globe is much more complex, requiring pipelines and very specialist ships, rather than oil tanker fleet logistics which is more commonplace as a means of moving product from source to destination. High energy costs combined with concerns about the supply of naphtha from Russia, has spurred suppliers into asking for contract C2 (ethylene), C3 (propylene) and SM (styrene monomer) at prices that will be record highs.

Obviously, polymer producers are looking to pass these monomer cost increase through the supply chain, however polymer converters, who are already feeling the pressure of high raw material prices, significant energy cost increases and the new UK Packaging Tax are trying hard to resist.

In the graph below, there is a clear gap between spot and contract monomer prices. It now remains to be seen if that gap is closed as either contract prices moderate or spot prices catch up:

Spot vs. Contract Feedstock Prices:
May 2020 – April 2022 – Hover over graph for more detail

Many polymer buyers are limiting purchasing from both a funding perspective and for fear that prices may have or may soon have peaked. This approach may still leave sellers with a significant amount of control, as material will be tight in the marketplace.

April is likely to be an interesting and significant month.

Mike Boswell
Managing Director – Plastribution Group

Monomer Price Movement

Feedstock
Change (Contract)
C2 (Ethylene)
£192.51
C3 (Propylene)
£188.32
SM (Styrene Monomer)
£301.31
Benzene
£105.46
Brent Crude
£52.73

Oil Prices

Oil prices have become increasingly volatile. The initial rapid price increases that took place after Russia invaded Ukraine have more recently been countered both by fears of further lockdowns in the Chinese economy due to fresh outbreaks of Covid-19, and by the decision of the US Government to release strategic reserves.

It is of note that natural gas prices remain high, largely because it is more difficult to switch away from Russian sources due to the relative difficulty of transporting natural gas compared to crude oil.

Exchange Rates

The USD has continued to strengthen over the past two months.

The GBP has remained stable against the Euro, trading in a tight range between 1.18 and 1.21

UK Economic Data

Topic

Item

Date

%

Trend

GDP

Real GDP (Q on Q)

Q1 2022
0.75

UK Output

Manufacturing Index

Q4 2021
97.4

Sales

New Car Registrations (Y on Y)

March
-14.3

Sales

Retail Sales (Y on Y)

February
109.7

Labour

Unemployment Rate

Nov-Jan
3.9

Prices

CPI (Y on Y)

Feb

6.2

Prices

RPI (Y on Y)

Feb
8.2

Interest Rates

Bank of England Base Rate

Feb

0.75

Polyolefins

Whilst the pricing situation in April is not as dynamic as March as the world adjusts to the new reality of the invasion of Ukraine, we still face uncertain times and significant upward price pressure. April pricing is up in all areas, but the amount can vary significantly as price increases in March varied from supplier to supplier. However, the overall picture for March and April combined is a total increase of €350-450 / MT depending on the grade. Some of that increase came in the middle of March and those suppliers implemented smaller increases in April. Others held off in March and then sought to put through the full monomer increases for April.

Monomers increased by €230 / MT for Ethylene (C2) and €225 / MT for Propylene (C3) with both at new record highs. These increases were on the back of very high oil prices that consequently led to very high naphtha prices and concerns about availability with sanctions on Russia hitting supplies. The spike in energy costs also gave impetus for the drive to implement “energy surcharges.” Many suppliers forced these through in March and they remain in April.

With many converters entering March with minimal stocks in anticipation of prices dropping, the initial demand was relatively strong, but the high prices have caused many to restrict output and are operating “hand to mouth,” with a resulting impact on demand.

Outlook for beyond April appears to be a retreat on pricing as oil costs have dropped and weaker demand putting the market into an oversupply situation. However, the softening will probably be slight as imports are still largely absent from Europe limiting the pressure on local producers to offer much in the way of reductions in May. Global supply chain issues are persisting and will be an issue for at least the rest of the year, this will continue to hit imports.

Ian Chisnall
Product Manager – Polyolefins

Polyolefins Feedstocks
£/Metric Tonne by month

LDPE

Supply
Demand

LDPE pricing rose sharply in April. Market level appeared to be at least £1,700 / MT with most sources quoting £1,750+. Specialist grades were in short supply and some quoted £2,000 / MT+ with a “take it or leave it” approach.

Availability, however, was reasonable with no reported issues in buyers being able to secure what they needed.

Pricing for May appears to show some softening but with no significant imports expected until at least July, prices will probably stay relatively strong.

LLDPE

Supply
Demand

LLDPE pricing has risen significantly and are now almost back at the record levels seen this time last year.

Standard C4 grades are reported at £1,600 / MT+ but as with LDPE, most buyers reported that they could secure their requirements. However, for Hexene grades, a different story with prices at £1,900 / MT+ and many reports of restricted availability.

Metallocene reported similar stores with co-monomer shortages leading to low output and prices over £2,000 / MT.  Outlook for May appears to be a slight softening on pricing as demand is weak but C6 likely to remain short.

HDPE

Supply
Demand

HDPE rebounded strongly in March and kept those gains going in April.

HDPE is the grade most affected by a loss of imports and with Russia being a significant supplier of HDPE into Europe, there were holes in supply leading to some struggles to secure material.

All HDPE grades were reported at around £1,600 / MT with restricted availability and relatively strong demand keeping prices high. With HDPE very reliant on imports for supply in Europe, prices likely to hold up for longer until supplies from Middle East and USA are restored.

PP

Supply
Demand

PP pricing rose again April but is under less price pressure than PE grades with demand more severely affected by further drops in areas such as automotive and consumer goods.

PP Copolymer saw levels around £1,800 / MT with some producers reporting strong demand and limited availability. However, buyers reported that deals could be done, and seller targets were very ambitious.

Homopolymer rose less sharply into April and whilst we are £200 / MT more than we were in the middle of February, we’re some way off the record pricing seen last year. Current levels appear to be around £1,550 / MT and as with Copolymer, deals for less than this could be done if you weren’t too fussy on the source.

Other Polyolefins

EVA continues to be very restricted; VAM is in short supply and expensive as an energy intensive product. Production in Europe is limited with those that can, swinging their plants to LDPE instead. Far Eastern production is also limited with many reported production issues and unplanned maintenance. EVA pricing will stay high until the summer.

Speciality OPP is moving in line with the rest of the market. Some restrictions on availability but mostly matched with drops in demand.

Styrenics

Andrew Waterfield
Product Supervisor – Styrenics

Styrenics Feedstocks
£/Metric Tonne by month

PS

Supply
Demand

March SM contract price settled at €93/T higher than February, exceeding the previous high of April 2021.  These increases were driven by rising energy costs, and the war in Ukraine pushing raw material costs upwards.

PS followed these increases, with an added energy surcharge from some producers, but supply and demand remained normal.

April SM has risen by a colossal €360/T, driven by surging energy prices, and concerns about natural gas supply.  Production of SM is very energy intensive compared to other monomers, and this causes styrene to be very reactive to any changes in energy cost.  SM supply has also dropped, as EU supply tightened, and US imports fell to almost nothing.  Polystyrene producers could cut production as demand is expected to fall, to avoid building up stock at high prices.

Demand from converters is expected to be low as only essential material will be purchased at these record prices.

ABS

Supply
Demand

ABS rose by an average of €30/T in March, and demand and supply were balanced and normal.  However, an average does not tell the whole story.  EU ABS producers followed the rising composite monomer costs (SM +€93/T, butadiene +€100/T, ACN +€93.50/T), with energy surcharges being applied as well.  On the other hand, Asian import prices rolled, or even fell slightly.

Surging monomer and energy costs in April can only push prices higher.  Composite monomer prices have risen by €336/T, and rising energy costs will have to be added to this.  It must also be assumed that price increases of this magnitude will throttle demand.

PC/ABS

Supply
Demand

As usual, PC/ABS price is following the trend of ABS.

Other Styrenics

SAN and specialities such as ASA and SMMA continue to follow the price trend of ABS.

Engineering Polymers

Sharron Jarvis
Product Supervisor – Engineering Polymers

Engineering Polymer Feedstocks
£/Metric Tonne by month

PA6

Supply
Demand

Large price increases announced for April, as costs for Benzene, energy, and logistics all continue to rise. With weak demand in the automotive sector, the situation should remain balanced, at least in the short term.

PA66

Supply
Demand

Significant price increases announced to the market with very restricted supply.

The war in Ukraine could well impact supply and pricing further, due to the volatility in the price of natural gas which is used in the manufacture of intermediates for these materials.

POM

Supply
Demand

The picture for POM remains unchanged with increasing prices, restricted supply, and allocations still in place.

PC

Supply
Demand

Benzene contracts saw three digit increases into April. Prices are rising rapidly on the back of raw materials, and extremely high energy costs.

Production in Europe remains low with reduced output due to maintenance programs, however availability for standard grades should be sufficient as we see increased imports from Asia. The situation for the supply of speciality PC grades remains limited.

PMMA

Supply
Demand

Price increases announced to the market of around €350/tonne, and the supply of MMA is still noticeably short.

PBT

Supply
Demand

The situation remains dire due to the continued shortages of Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA) and Butanediol (BDO) which in turn means significantly higher prices and extremely restricted supply.

Other Engineering Polymers

The situation for other engineering grades remains complex, difficult to predict and depends very much on the material type, but shortages and cost increases are still the norm for almost every polymer.

Contact Mike Boswell

Managing Director – Plastribution Group

Contact Ian Chisnall

Product Manager – Polyolefins

Contact Andrew Waterfield

Product Supervisor – Styrenics

Contact Sharron Jarvis

Product Supervisor – Engineering Polymers

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