The comprehensive and extensive coverage of Polystyrene, compiled by our team of locally-based reporters gives market players up-to-date and in-depth independent and unbiased pricing information. The weekly price assessments are covered in Asia, Middle East, CIS, Europe, the US and Latin America.
There are also margin reports and 12-month rolling series reports for Asia, Europe and the US, while the forecast report looking forward a year is for Europe only. Market news and analysis gives the reader the tools required to make essential commercial decisions. Commentary within the reports includes overviews, demand and supply, production issues, feedstock movements and any other factors influencing the market at the time of publication.
Updated to Q1 2021
Some unexpected supply disruptions, especially for HIPS, contributed to lower supply levels. The closure of a unit in Singapore in early March led to tighter GPPS supply as well. Chinese run rates were not high either, with some units running lower because of the Lunar New Year holiday in February.
Chinese import demand was strong at the start of the year because of end-product fulfilment to the west, especially for some disposable packaging industries and the household appliances sector. Subsequently, demand was supported in southeast Asia and the west as end-users had to cover more requirements on plant problems and shutdowns.
Supply tightened further across Q1 2021 from a lack of upstream styrene availability and price hikes. This was caused by a styrene force majeure in Europe and a lack of styrene imports from the US due to severe winter weather. Towards the end of the quarter, PS producers had reduced output rates due to the higher styrene costs, and supply also shortened amid better-than-expected demand.
PS demand was strong across Q1 from the downstream household appliances sector, particularly fridges, driven by manufacturers restocking on supply concerns as well as a strong buying trend for household improvements during lockdowns. Construction demand was soft in January and February due to severe winter weather conditions, but started increasing towards the end of Q1 ahead of the high season. Packaging demand has been stable across Q1.
Early Q1 supply was limited on production issues at some Asian facilities. PS supply then tightened, crimped by the tightness in feedstock styrene supply following production disruptions in the US, as Asian styrene makers diverted bulk volumes to markets like US and Latin America in view of higher netbacks. Supply remained restricted through Q1 until March, as PS producers lacked any significant inventory pressure despite styrene prices correcting downwards on improved supply expectations from April.
Q1 demand was stable early on, with some attempts to stock up in the new year. Demand then firmed, with stronger uptake from the disposables and packaging segments in preparation for the fasting month of Ramadan. Buying momentum however tapered later in the quarter as the steep price hike following the surge in styrene prices began to hamper processors’ ability to pass on the resin price hike to downstream markets.
Latin America PS supply is close to normal levels in most regional markets despite some operating rates edging lower on reduced feedstock availability or because producers have been discouraged by strong monomer price gains in other regions. A local producer in Brazil faced an catalyst issue at their monomer plant in southern Brazil thereby reducing PS production. Another Brazilian producer has no availability for exports through Q2.
PS demand in Q1 was strong resulting from appliances sales and durable goods demand remaining elevated. Single-use plastics disposables demand was also strong on sanitary needs to stem the pandemic and buoyed by suspension of legislation banning single-use plastics. Following a strong recovery of industrial activity in 2020 for major markets, figures for activity in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico have been easing.
PS supplies tightened significantly due to the impacts of the mid-February polar storm on US styrene monomer plants. Widespread styrene outages constrained average operating rates and caused one major producer to declare force majeure on PS. Stock levels dwindled through the final half of the quarter as the industry drew down stocks in the face of reduced production and solid demand.
Demand remained strong on persistent strength in the US manufacturing sector. The broader economic recovery since the second half of 2020 has been primarily driven by strength in demand for manufactured goods as much travel and entertainment spending continues to be deferred. Short supplies for some other products, including PP, has provided some substitution demand for PS.
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Polystyrene (PS) is a thermoplastic polymer and is available in several forms: general purpose (crystal), medium impact, high impact and expandable
The diagram below shows the main method of making polystyrene (PS) from naphtha, a product mainly derived from crude oil.
The diagram below shows the main method of making polystyrene (PS) from naphtha, a product mainly derived from crude oil.
Ethane (or naphtha) with steam is fed into the cracker unit where ethylene and co-products (propylene, butadiene, benzene, etc.) are made. The ethylene and benzene from the cracker are then further processed (catalytic alkylation) to make ethylbenzene.
Polystyrene (PS) is a clear, crystalline resin which burns with a sooty flame. It is soluble in cyclohexane (CX), ethylbenzene (EB), ethyl acetate (etac), carbon disulphide, but insoluble in ether, acetone, phenol and saturated hydrocarbons.
Two main types of PS are produced: crystal or general purpose polystyrene (GPPS) which is a clear, amorphous resin with good stiffness and electrical properties but it is brittle; and medium and high impact polystyrene (HIPS) which contain varying levels of polybutadiene to improve toughness and impact resistance.
Polystyrene is used in a variety of consumer and commercial products with major applications in domestic appliances, construction, electronics, toys and food packaging. Included in food packaging are food and dairy containers, closures, lids, produce baskets, vending cups and fast food containers.
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