European standard thermoplastic prices remained mostly unchanged during the first half of September. Producers' hopes for a price upturn were not realised due to weaker than anticipated demand and small movements in feedstock costs. At the same time, buyers were largely unable to force sellers to offer price discounts. All in all, most polymer classes saw prices hover around a rollover with very limited movement either up or down.
Polypropylene was the exception with both feedstock costs and polymer prices rising during September. Tight propylene supply led to a €20/tonne increase in the September contract price. All PP types registered price gains of €25/tonne during the first two weeks of September trading.
The September ethylene contract price remained unchanged at €925/tonne. LDPE sellers saw small price increases for specialty grades with standard material prices remaining largely unchanged. LLDPE notations dropped €10/tonne due to the continued inflow of competitively-price imports.
Polystyrene prices were rolled over during September despite a €20/tonne rise in the monthly styrene monomer reference price. PVC prices were also largely stable.
Bottle-grade PET prices appeared to be bottoming out as an anticipated small rise in feedstock costs and better demand saw a slight price upturn.
Apart from polypropylene, material availability for other polymer classes was at normal levels last month. Propylene supply in Europe is low and there are also several plant maintenance shutdowns either taking place or planned. The more highly-specified PP, L/LDPE and HDPE grades were in somewhat shorter supply than standard materials. Competitively-priced imports were also a factor for LLDPE and PET markets.
Some of the latest supply-related issues are summarised below:
• BPRP shut one of the two steam crackers at its Gelsenkirchen, Germany, facility for maintenance on 23 August and plans to restart early October.
• Ineos' Grangemouth, Scotland cracker continued to undergo maintenance into September.
• LyondellBasell was carrying out scheduled maintenance at one of its crackers at Wesseling, Germany, in September.
• Total lifted force majeure on polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene supplies from its French plants, at the end of August.
• A power outage on the evening of 30 August forced Ineos Styrolution to stop production of all four PS plants at its port of Antwerp's Lillo section. The resulting supply constraints led the company to place customers on strict allocation for all PS grades delivered from the affected facilities.
• Unipetrol has completed repairs to its steam cracker at Litvinov, Czech Republic after a fire a year ago that took the facility off line and full run is expected to be reached in late October.
Following lacklustre demand during August due to summer holidays, suppliers hoped for a pick-up in order intake after the holiday period had come to an end. Demand was however slow to recover at the beginning of September but suppliers remained optimistic that converters would start to replenish inventories as the month progressed. L/LDPE, HDPE and PP markets were quieter than expected but PS and PVC demand was more in line with market expectations. Meanwhile, PET sales benefitted from converters topping up inventories due to the hot summer weather in southern Europe.
As polymer markets move closer into balance, the October price trend will be driven by upstream movements in crude oil and feedstock costs. However, given the volatility in upstream petrochemical markets, it is unclear at this time which way costs are likely to move during the remainder of the month.
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