Polyethylene (PE)

Understanding the world’s most widely used plastic

Discover the factors influencing polyethylene (PE) markets

From the packaging on our food to the paints in our homes, polyethylene (PE) surrounds us as by far the largest commodity plastic by overall volume. It is essential to our daily lives. With countless applications in everyday materials, it is crucial for anyone with an active interest in the market to understand what is driving PE markets. Adapting efficiently to the significant changes in how it is being produced and consumed around the world is key.

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Polyethylene (PE) news

SHIPPING: Global container rates edge higher, volumes shifting to West Coast ahead of tariffs

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global shipping container rates edged slightly higher this week as they continue to moderate after more than doubling from early-May, and rates from Shanghai to the US West Coast fell, according to supply chain advisors Drewry. Drewry’s composite World Container Index (WCI) rose by just 1% and is up by just 1.2% over the past two week, as shown in the following chart. Average rates from China to the US East Coast have continued to rise and are nearing $10,000/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit), as shown in the following chart. Drewry expects ex-China rates to hold steady next week and remain high throughout the peak season. Rates from online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos showed similar rates of increase. Judah Levine, head of research at Freightos, in noting the slower rate of increase also pointed to signs that prices may have already peaked. “Daily rates so far this week are ticking lower and major carriers have not announced surcharge increases for later this month or August,” Levine said. Levine said peak season likely started early this year as retailers ordered early to beat possible labor issues at US Gulf and East Coast ports and as consumers continued to spend on goods. Emily Stausboll, senior shipping analyst at ocean and freight rate analytics firm Xeneta, said she is seeing some carriers already lowering spot rates. “This suggests a growing level of available capacity in the market and shippers can once again start to play carriers off against each other – instead of feeling they need to pay whatever price they are offered to secure space. As the balance of negotiating power starts to swing back towards shippers, we should see spot rates start to come back down,” Stausboll said. Container ships and costs for shipping containers are relevant to the chemical industry because while most chemicals are liquids and are shipped in tankers, container ships transport polymers, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. VOLUMES SHIFT TO WEST COAST The Port of Los Angeles saw a 10% increase from the previous month and a slight increase year on year in volumes, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said. Some retailers are rushing to import volumes ahead of the US presidential election in November as Republican nominee Donald Trump has proposed hiking tariffs, especially on goods from China. But a persistently strong economy is also supporting the rise in imports. “The US economy continues to be the primary driver of our cargo volume and I expect to see that continue in the months ahead,” Seroka said. Many importers shifted their deliveries to the US East Coast in 2022 when congestion at West Coast ports surged amid strong consumer demand coming out of the pandemic. The shift in volumes from the East Coast has not led to any congestions at the West Coast ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California (MESC). “Vessels and cargo arriving, departing, and shifting around the ports of LA and LB and continue to move normally with no labor delays and ample labor,” MESC executive director Kip Louttit said. Louttit also said the forecast for arriving container ships over the next two weeks is trending higher. LIQUID CHEM TANKER RATES Rates for liquid chemical tankers ex-US Gulf were stable to softer this week, with decreases seen on the USG-Asia and USG-Brazil trade lanes. From the USG to Asia, there has still been interest in large cargoes, but volumes overall have been slowing down. The absence of market participants has caused freight rates to stumble some, with more downward pressure on smaller parcels due to the small pockets of space readily available. From the USG to Brazil, the list of ships open in the USG continues to grow, with space still available which could lead to continued downward pressure and even lower rates. Activity typically picks up during summer months, but this is not currently being seen. PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal will limit transits from 3-4 August because of planned maintenance. The east lane of the Miraflores locks will be out of service for concrete maintenance on the east approach wall, the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) said. The PCA began limiting transits in July 2023 because of low water levels in Gatun Lake caused by an extended drought. Restrictions have gradually eased over the past few months and are approaching the average daily transits of 36-38/day seen prior to impacts from the drought. The improved conditions at the canal are likely to improve transit times for vessels traveling between the US Gulf and Asia, as well as between Europe and west coast Latin America countries. This should benefit chemical markets that move product between regions. Wait times for non-booked southbound vessels ready for transit have been relatively steady at less than two days, according to the PCA vessel tracker. Wait times were less than a day for northbound vessels and less than two days for southbound traffic. Focus article by Adam Yanelli With additional reporting by Kevin Callahan Visit the ICIS Logistics – impact on chemicals and energy topic page.

19-Jul-2024

VIDEO: Eastern Europe R-PET colourless flake, bale prices turn bullish

LONDON (ICIS)–Senior editor for recycling Matt Tudball discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: Bullish outlook for eastern Europe bales and flake Upwards pressure appearing when market usually quietens down for summer Wider market expects bale supply to improve during August Outlook from September onwards still uncertain

19-Jul-2024

Braskem Idesa ethane supply more stable, PE prices to recover in H2 2025 – exec

MADRID (ICIS)–Supply of ethane from Pemex to polyethylene (PE) producer Braskem Idesa is now more stable after a renegotiation of the contract – but the global PE market remains in the doldrums, according to an executive at the Mexican firm. Sergio Plata, head of institutional relations and communications at Braskem Idesa, said a recovery in global PE prices could start in the second half of 2025 as the market is expected to remain oversupplied in the coming quarters. Plata explained how Braskem Idesa had to renegotiate the terms of an agreement with Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned crude oil major, for the supply of natural gas-based ethane, one of the routes to produce PE, to its facilities in Coatzacoalcos. Supply is now more stable and in the quantities agreed, he said. Braskem Idesa operates the Ethylene XXI complex in Coatzacoalcos, south of the industrial state of Veracruz, which has capacity to produce 1.05 million tonnes/year of ethylene and downstream capacities of 750,000 tonnes/year for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and 300,000 tonnes/year for low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Braskem Idesa is a joint venture made up of Brazil’s polymers major Braskem (75%) and Mexican chemical producer Grupo Idesa (25%). ETHANE FLOWING, TERMINAL IN Q1 2025 Pemex agreed with Braskem Idesa to supply the PE producer with a minimum volume of 30,000 barrels/day of ethane until the beginning of 2025, when Braskem Idesa plans to start up an import terminal in Coatzacoalcos to allow it to tap into exports out of the US Gulf Coast. However, both parties sat to renegotiate that agreement after Pemex’s supply proved to be unstable, with credit rating agencies such as Fitch warning in 2023 of the “operational risk” such a deal with the state-owned major represented for Braskem Idesa. The outcome of the renegotiation is starting to bear fruit, explained Plata diplomatically, without providing any details. He conceded, however, that to outsiders, Pemex’s businesses could look rather odd. “We understand the positions of a public entity such as Pemex, and we understand its methods could look questionable to eyes outside our relationship,” said Plata. “However, at Braskem Idesa we were confident that if we sat down with them to renegotiate, clearly stating what we require from each other, we could reach a point in the renegotiation which worked for us as a company and for the Mexican petrochemicals sector as a whole.” Together with more stable supply from Pemex, Braskem Idesa also adopted the so-called Fast Track to import ethane while its own import terminal starts up. The terminal, known as Terminal Quimica Puerto Mexico (TQPM), closed the last financing details at the end of 2023. Plata said the terminal would start up “without a doubt” by the beginning of 2025, adding that construction was 70% complete by the beginning of July. According to Plata, with Pemex’s more stable ethane supply and the Fast Track system, Braskem Idesa is operating at 70-75% capacity utilization. PE MARKET WOES As a PE producer, Braskem Idesa remains exposed to the global downturn in polymers prices due to oversupplies. Plata said the downturn has been a “very hard” period for polymers producers, who may still face 12 more months of downturn. In its latest financial statement for the first quarter, Braskem Idesa’s sales fell by 2%, year on year, and the company posted a net loss. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) rose. Braskem Idesa (in $ million) Q1 2024 Q1 2023 Change Q4 2023 Change Q1 2024 vs Q4 2024 Sales 229 234 -2% 199 15% Net profit/loss -85 1 N/A -101 -16% EBITDA 36 26 36% 26 39% PE sales volumes (in tonnes) 205,500 195,100 5.4% 174,500 17.8% “We have had a very complex environment, with increased capacities in the US or China and with the war in Ukraine raising our production costs. We are undoubtedly in a down cycle and as a company we have tried to take care of our margins by controlling our costs and look closely at our investments,” said Plata. He said he “would not have the answer” about what to do with China’s dumping of product around the world, a fact that in Brazil, the largest Latin American economy, has prompted chemicals trade group Abiquim to lobby hard for higher import tariffs in polymers, as well as dozens of other chemicals. “Market analysts predict the current cycle may come to an end in the second half of 2025. Let’s hope so… This has been such a long crisis, aggravated by external factors such as wars and global convulsions, which undoubtedly also affect the industry, and the environment remains very uncertain.” Front page picture: Braskem Idesa’s facilities in Coatzacoalcos Source: Braskem Idesa Interview article by Jonathan Lopez Next week, ICIS will publish the second part of the interview with Plata, with his views on the challenges and opportunities for the chemicals and manufacturing sectors under the upcoming Administration led by President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum amid the nearshoring trend

18-Jul-2024

PODCAST: Europe PE, PP July outlook

LONDON (ICIS)–Europe’s run up to holiday season has been unusually busy for polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) markets, including some spot prices reversing for the first time since March 2024. In this ICIS podcast, European PE and PP senior editors Vicky Ellis and Ben Lake pick out July’s big themes, from logistics (hurricane Beryl and still-spiked Asian freight rates) to the mismatch between how local suppliers and converters are experiencing demand this month. They also highlight what to watch for August. Editing by Damini Dabholkar

18-Jul-2024

Asia top stories – weekly summary

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 12 July 2024. OUTLOOK: Asia naphtha market braces for supply uncertainties By Li Peng Seng 12-Jul-24 12:00 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s naphtha market sentiment is expected to be choppy in the short term due to a lack of clarity on arbitrage supplies against volatile demand. OUTLOOK: Asia EVA market loses shine as demand from PV sector lags By Helen Lee 11-Jul-24 11:25 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Demand for ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) from China’s photovoltaic (PV) industry is likely to remain lackluster amid an oversupply in the entire industry chain. PODCAST: China to accelerate hydrogen development via energy law By Patricia Tao 10-Jul-24 11:25 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China's recent decision to include hydrogen in its draft national energy law signals a transformative shift in the country's energy landscape. China EV giant BYD to invest $1 billion in Turkey production plant By Nurluqman Suratman 09-Jul-24 15:24 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Chinese electric vehicle (EV) giant BYD has agreed to invest $1 billion to set up a manufacturing plant in Turkey which will produce up to 150,000 vehicles per year. PODCAST: Asia recycling market sees increased interest in pyrolysis By Damini Dabholkar 09-Jul-24 11:17 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Market players in Asia are increasingly becoming more interested in the use of pyrolysis oil as fuel. OUTLOOK: SE Asia PE to see some demand recovery in H2, challenges persist By Izham Ahmad 09-Jul-24 15:07 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The southeast Asian polyethylene (PE) market is expected to face modest demand recovery in the second half (H2) of the year, but this is likely to be negated by increased supply and the threat of high freight costs affecting import shipments.

15-Jul-2024

VIDEO: Europe R-PET pellet price range narrows on SUPD-driven demand

LONDON (ICIS)–Senior Editor for Recycling, Matt Tudball, discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including, Colourless flake prices rise in Italy Food-grade pellet (FGP) price range narrows on improved demand FGP proactive buyers move to secure volumes ahead of Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) implementation in January

12-Jul-2024

INSIGHT: After Beryl, US chems may see 11 more hurricanes

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The conditions that helped make Beryl become a hurricane before hitting Texas chemical plants will persist through the rest of the season, with meteorologists forecasting 11 more forming in the Atlantic basin. Conditions are already conducive for hurricanes even though the peak of the season does not happen until the late summer. Beryl still disrupted chemical operations even though it was a relatively weak hurricane when it made landfall in Texas. The next hurricane could disrupt global chemical markets if it damages terminals and ports on the Gulf Coast. BERYL'S KNOCKS OUT POWEREven though Beryl was a Category 1 hurricane – the weakest class – it still caused more than 2 million outages in Texas. Many of the disruptions that Beryl caused to the chemical industry were because of power outages. A roughly equal number of disruptions was caused by companies shutting down operations as a precaution. Other disruptions were attributed to bad weather. PORT DISRUPTIONSBeryl's other major effect was on ports. The ports of Corpus Christi, Freeport, Texas City and Houston had shut down. Beryl caused Freeport LNG Development to shut down its operations. CONDITIONS THAT MADE BERYL SO POWERFUL WILL PERSISTBeryl illustrates the destructive potential of a weak Category 1 hurricane that travels through parts of Texas that host critical powerlines and ports. The meteorology firm AccuWeather estimates that total damage and economic loss caused by Beryl was $28-32 billion. Beryl was remarkable because, prior to making landfall in Texas, it had become a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful class under the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was the first time that such a powerful hurricane had formed so early in the year, something that US meteorologist attributed to exceptionally warm ocean temperatures. The surface temperatures at sea are already close to what is typical during the mid-September, the peak hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After Beryl made landfall in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, it weakened into a tropical storm before passing over more warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. There it strengthened rapidly and became a hurricane once more before hitting Texas. The warm waters that contributed to Beryl's strength will persist and should soon be joined by La Nina, a weather phenomenon that also makes hurricanes more likely. METEOROLOGISTS RAISE HURRICANE FORECASTEarlier this week, the hurricane forecast for this year was raised by meteorologists at Colorado State University's Tropical Weather & Climate Research. The following compares the center's latest hurricane forecast to its update in June and to the average for the years 1991-2020. July June Average Named Storms 25 23 14.4 Named Storm Days 120 115 69.4 Hurricanes 12 11 7.2 Hurricane Days 50 45 27.0 Major Hurricanes 6 5 3.2 Major Hurricane Days 16 13 7.4 Source: Colorado State University Like NOAA, Colorado State University (CSU) noted that extremely warm sea surface temperatures and a possible La Nina are making it more likely for hurricanes to form and strengthen. THE NEXT HURRICANE COULD CAUSE MORE DAMAGEThe next hurricane can prove to be a bigger logistical headache for railroad companies. Beryl had caused only brief disruptions at BNSF and Union Pacific (UP). Beryl's path did not threaten US oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. The next storm could threaten those wells, causing several energy producers to shut in production. Damage to Gulf Coast oil, ethane, LPG and LNG terminals could disrupt energy markets if the outages last long enough. Texas and the neighboring state of Louisiana are home to most of the nation's LNG export capacity. Prolonged outages at LNG terminals could lead to an oversupply of natural gas in the US because producers could lose an outlet to ship out excess capacity. Prices for natural gas could consequently fall. Prices for ethane tend to follow those for natural gas, so they would also fall in the event of a supply glut. Texas ships ethane and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to crackers all over the world. If the next hurricane damages those terminals and leads to a prolonged shutdown, it could have global repercussions by interrupting shipments of feedstock to crackers. In the US, it could cause prices for those products to plummet, especially for propane. US midstream companies are already trying to ship out as much LPG as possible because production has been so prolific. Over the years, US producers have exported increasing amounts of polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). If the next hurricane damages those plants, then it would have a direct effect on global petrochemical markets. Insight by Al Greenwood Thumbnail shows a distribution transformer of a power line knocked down by Beryl. Image by Reginald Mathalone/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

11-Jul-2024

VIDEO: UK, eastern Europe C R-PET flake range narrows, Italian bale prices rise

LONDON (ICIS)–Senior editor for recycling Matt Tudball discusses the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: Rises on the low end of colourless flake narrows UK, eastern Europe ranges Colourless, blue bale prices rise in Italian monthly auctions Increased bale supply, tighter PET, cheaper R-PET imports

05-Jul-2024

Four Asia chemical majors in consortium to build green polyester supply chain

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–A consortium consisting of four Asian petrochemical producers have agreed to establish a sustainable polyester fiber supply chain. Japan's Mitsubishi Corp, South Korea’s SK geo centric, Thailand’s Indorama Ventures Ltd (IVL), and India Glycols along with three other companies are part of the consortium, the companies said in a joint statement on Thursday. Japanese sports apparel firm Goldwin is the project owner of the initiative, while Finnish refiner Neste is also part of the consortium alongside Japan-based engineering firm Chiyoda Corp. Financial details of the project were not disclosed. The project aims to utilize renewable and bio-based materials as well as materials produced via carbon capture and utilization (CCU) to manufacture polyester fibers for THE NORTH FACE brand in Japan. Outdoor apparel and equipment brand THE NORTH FACE is operated by Goldwin in Japan. "After that, the launch of further products and brands of Goldwin will be considered," Chiyoda said in the statement. The polyester fiber produced from the project is planned to be used by Goldwin for a part of THE NORTH FACE products, including sports uniforms in July this year. Chiyoda will supply CCU-based paraxylene (PX) to the supply chain, while Thai polyester producer IVL will contribute renewable CCU-based purified terephthalic acid (PTA). In March 2022, Chiyoda started producing carbon dioxide (CO2)-based PX at its pilot plant at the company's Koyasu Research Park in Kanagawa prefecture as part of a project linked with Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NED). SK geo centric and Neste will be supplying renewable PX and renewable naphtha, respectively. India Glycols, which produces monoethylene glycol (MEG), will supply bio-ethylene glycol made mainly from sugarcane. Toyobo MC Corporation (TMC) – a joint venture between Toyobo Co and Mitsubishi Corp – will be supplying renewable bio-CCU polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Details on supply volumes from each of the consortium partners were not disclosed. Thumbnail photo: A generic polyester clothing label (Sandvik/imageBROKER/Shutterstock)

04-Jul-2024

Hurricane Beryl on track to make landfall near US, Mexico border

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Hurricane Beryl is on track to make landfall on Monday near the border of Mexico and the US on the Gulf Coast, although the path could change in the next few days. If Beryl holds to its forecasted path, it would spare the major refining and petrochemical hubs in the US and Mexico. In addition, few if any energy companies may choose to shut in US oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Major US oil and LNG ports would escape the worst of the storm. The following map shows the forecasts path of Hurricane Beryl as of midday on Wednesday. The forecasted path puts Hurricane Beryl between the Mexican petrochemical hub of Altamira, Tamaulipas state and the US hub of Corpus Christi, Texas state. IF BERYL CHANGES COURSE, IT COULD THREATEN CORPUS CHRISTIIn addition to being a refining and petrochemical hub, Corpus Christi is a major oil-exporting port and hosts a terminal that exports liquefied natural gas (LNG). Were a storm to disrupt US LNG exports, it would have a knock-on effect on petrochemical prices by shutting down one of the eight LNG export terminals in the country. If the disruption lasted long enough, prices for natural gas would fall. Lower gas prices would drag down those for ethane, the main feedstock that US crackers use to produce ethylene. Petrochemical producers could benefit from lower feedstock costs. UPDATE ON HURRICANE BERYLHurricane Beryl is the first Category 5 hurricane to form so early in the season. Category 5 hurricanes have the strongest winds under the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, with speeds exceeding 157 miles/hour (253 km/hour). Beryl is near Jamaica and it should weaken as it approaches the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, where it should make landfall on Friday. It will cross the peninsula, enter the Bay of Campeche and remain north of the Mexican state of Veracruz, which is home to the petrochemical hub of Coatzacoalcos and the Ethylene XXI integrated polyethylene (PE) complex. It will swing north before making another landfall near Brownsville, Texas state and Matamoros, Tamaulipas state. BUSY HURRICANE SEASONMeteorologists have warned that this year's hurricane season could be the most active ever, with 17-25 named storms. Out of those, 8-13 should be hurricanes and 4-7 should be major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are Category 3-5 storms with wind speeds of at least 111 miles/hour.

03-Jul-2024

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