Europe March PE prices reverse nine-month downward trend

Source: ICIS News

2019/03/08

LONDON (ICIS)--European polyethylene (PE) prices are moving up for the first time since June 2018.

Some traders sighed a breath of relief.

“It’s been really tough these past months, with only dropping prices,” said one.

“Nice to hear something like this after months of decreases,” said another.

The last time most PE prices moved up was in June 2018.

Some net low-end spot PE prices have been trading below the ethylene contract price for months.

Low-end low density polyethylene (LDPE) spot prices have been trading largely below the ethylene contract since July 2018, with C4 (butene based) linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) low-end net prices faring worse.

The last time C4 LLDPE low-end spot prices traded above the ethylene contract was in March 2018, and it is in this sector that upward pressure in March has been strongest, with less imported material available.

The bulk of C4 LLDPE used in Europe is imported, so does not have the same relationship with ethylene as other grades may have, but globally too European price have been low.

This week a very wide range of spot C4 LLDPE prices has been recorded, and some levels are still talked below the ethylene contract, while some buyers have been forced to pay a substantial increase to get hold of volumes they need.

LDPE net prices were also up, moving largely above €1,000/tonne FD (free delivered) NWE (northwest Europe).

There is an element of tightness in LDPE and C4 LLDPE on the back of production issues and fewer imports and, while some buyers were forced to accept higher prices, there was enough supply.

High density polyethylene (HDPE) is mixed. The spread between ethylene and HDPE has been stronger than in LDPE and LLDPE, but sellers are pushing for higher prices too.

PRICES UP, SHY DEMAND
Smaller sellers did not always see better demand in March, in spite of the strong upward price push.

“Prices are increasing, but sales are not,” said one. “There’s no shortage of anything, and not a lot of customers are pushing to buy.”

Sales at larger accounts were probably better, and some buyers were ensuring they would have all the need once the planned cracker maintenance programme gets under way.

Sources said May is an important month in terms of ethylene supply, but they also did not expect any shortages as long as everything went according to plan.

Some sellers were looking for increases as high as €50-70/tonne, but buyers were very sceptical and did not expect to be paying more than the increase in the ethylene contract price.

PE discussions are typically long to settle, and the practice of retroactive pricing remains in place in many regions.

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PE is used in packaging, the manufacture of household goods, and also in the agricultural sector.

Picture source: REX/Shutterstock

Focus article by Linda Naylor