FocusEurope PE, PP producers target hikes in uncertain market

01 July 2013 13:41  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS)--European polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) producers are targeting €30-60/tonne ($39-78/tonne) increases in July, in spite of the rollover in upstream monomer contracts, and ahead of uncertain demand as the summer slowdown approaches, sources said on Monday.

PE and PP prices rose by more than the monomer contracts in June, following better-than-expected demand in May. This, coupled with a reduction in naphtha prices in June, led to an improvement in producers’ margins.

Producers said that margins are still too low to be sustainable, however.

“In July we will apply a delta over C2 [ethylene],” said one PE producer. “Inventory levels are dramatically low. Destocking was so high...we are starting July pretty short.”

Increases in June are widely acknowledged to be based on reduced output and the return to the market of buyers convinced that prices had reached the bottom in May, rather than on any improvement in fundamentals.

May volumes rose sharply following several months of poor demand that led to cutbacks in output that reached as low as 70% at some PE and PP production units in Europe. Cracker output has now increased to an estimated 85% and some polyolefins players think this might lead to oversupply as demand slows down over the slower summer period.

Some PE grades in particular are tight, however, and producers do not expect converters to be able to recover a workable level as early as July.

Low density polyethylene (LDPE) and C4 (butene based) linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) grades in particular are in tight supply and producers are fairly confident of hiking prices again in July.

LDPE prices rose by a minimum of €50/tonne in June, bringing spot prices up to €1,300-1,350/tonne FD (free delivered) NWE (northwest Europe) on a net basis, with one major producer forcing a €70-80/tonne increase on its buyers at the end of the month.

LLDPE buyers were also under strong pressure to accept increases as import volumes dropped, leaving buyers unable to source extra product elsewhere. Europe is a net importer of C4 LLDPE, with one source estimating that imports account for as much as 80% of the market.

“We’re not having a good time,” said a buyer of LDPE and LLDPE. “It’s tight. It’s caught us on the hop.”

LLDPE C4 prices are trading around €1,260-1,290/tonne FD NWE on a net basis.

Tightness in this sector is expected to be maintained over the period of the Ramadan religious festival because Middle Eastern supply remains the major provider of C4 LLDPE to Europe.

High density polyethylene (HDPE) is not experiencing the tightness of LDPE and LLDPE, and buyers do not feel under any particular pressure for July, in spite of the fact that producers managed to lift prices in June.

One large HDPE buyer said it was pursuing a decrease in the face of increases from producers next month.

“July is proving interesting ... I wouldn't mind betting we end the month at rollover.”

PP buyers also accepted increases in June, but they argued that they had not been faced with any product shortages and were sceptical over July increases. Some producers said their inventory levels are low and would not be back to a workable level in July, however.

PE and PP pricing discussions for July will begin soon.

Several sources said the success of producers’ targets will depend largely on the level of demand in July.

There has not been a run on spot product and spot prices have stabilised and even dropped in some cases. Sources say this could be a sign that buyers have enough stock to wait to see how July evolves before committing to product at higher prices.

PE and PP are used widely in packaging and in household goods. PE is also used in the agricultural sector and PP in the automotive sector.

($1 = €0.77)

By: Linda Naylor
+44 20 8652 3214

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