Polymer Price Know-How – March 2023

The leading polymer distributor, Plastribution, has released the latest instalment of Price Know-How. Price Know-How helps plastic raw material buyers make informed purchasing decisions. This month, the combination of high inflation and stagnant demand is causing serious economic issues for polymer producers. The high inflation element includes energy, feedstocks, logistics, regulatory and labour costs.

Overview: March 2023

Where is the exit for polymer price “stagflation”?

Economic stagnation is a global situation which is affecting polymer demand in all parts of the world, where too much polymer is chasing too little demand. The current circumstances are a marked contrast to this time last year, when already high pricing resulting from demand in the Covid-19 period, the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused the price of most polymers to inflate to record highs.

‘Stagflation’ is influencing the complete range of polymer types including polyolefins, styrenic based polymers and engineering polymers, with only styrenic polymers benefiting from a reduction in the feedstock element of variable costs in March.

With stable or falling prices there is little incentive for polymer converters to increase inventory levels beyond the bare minimum, particularly as the global economic difficulties result in a greater tendency to hoard cash, rather than tie up liquid assets in inventory or capital equipment. This phenomenon tends to keep demand at a low level and does nothing to push the supply/demand balance back in favour of the polymer producers.

So where is the exit for polymer price stagflation? Barring a major geopolitical event, then through a combination of capacity rationalisation and/or demand recovery market conditions will reach a tipping point where the sellers regain control. Typically, there tends to be an overshoot in which the balance tips significantly in the other direction with the consequence of restricted availability and burgeoning demand as polymer converters rush to secure inventory before prices go up further.

The current expectation is that the existing market conditions will persist through the remainder of Q1, with the likelihood that producers will test the market fundamentals from the start of Q2; the results of which will be determined by the market.

Polyolefins

March saw most Polyolefins continue their upward price recovery with another monomer increase of €30 / MT for both C2 and C3. There was some variability with LDPE too well supplied to achieve any kind of increase. However, HDPE and LLDPE saw increases above monomer due to tightening supply with a lack of imports from USA and Middle East. PP was also stronger than in recent months with improved demand and low operating rates from European producers.

Outlook for April is a mixed with some reports that demand will pick up and keep prices on the upward trend whilst others suggest a more balanced picture leading to rollover pricing. There are too many global factors in play to make any kind of concrete conclusions with recovery of the Chinese economy being a key factor in supply and demand balances.

USA produced material has seen limited exports as domestic demand and pricing improved and many Middle East producers are either in or about to start maintenance periods. Grades that we rely heavily on imports for (LLDPE and HDPE) are potentially going to see some tightness for a few months.

Styrenics

Engineering Polymers

Price Know-How: March 2023 Full Report

Visit the Price Know-How website to read the March 2023 update, including an in-depth analysis of each market segment and material group by Plastribution’s expert product managers.

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Price Know-How is an industry-leading report to keep you updated on polymer pricing and market fluctuations. A trusted, go-to resource for over a decade, Price Know-how is produced by the thermoplastics experts at the leading polymer distributor, Plastribution, with data from Plastics Information Europe.

Unlike many pricing reports, Price Know-How is tailored specifically for the UK polymer industry. We do all the currency conversions, so you don’t need to!

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