The quarantine announced in Europe did not affect the work of most industrial enterprises. Many experts describe the new lockdown as soft compared to the events of spring 2020. A general shortage of raw materials, as well as ship delays, are driving up prices in the market for both styrenic polymers and polyolefins. The problem of the lack of containers and high freight rates, which affects the plastics market, according to market participants, will persist until early February 2021.

Healthy demand for polymeric materials continues in the home appliance sector, as shoppers are unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions and spend their income on consumer goods instead. Many sources say that China’s plastics industry has benefited from strong domestic demand, as well as exports of medical equipment and packaging amid lockdowns imposed to combat coronavirus.

The Yusigi Company (UCG, Moscow), as the largest Russian distributor of polymers, made a traditional forecast of the activity of the local polymer market in December and spoke about the development trends of the petrochemical industry in Europe and Asia.

Starting monomers
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile prices in Asia rose by $ 30 per tonne as major manufacturers halted for preventive maintenance. Supply in the region remains limited as some factories are already undergoing renovations, while others are only planning maintenance in the coming weeks.

Many factories planning to shut down production focus on stockpiling to meet contractual obligations and do not offer enough material for the spot market.

The supply crisis in Asia worsened as supply from the US and Europe to Asia declined due to limited supply in those regions.

The European acrylonitrile market also rose over the past week due to limited supply and shortages. Some manufacturers remained outside the spot market, offering material only to contract customers.

Styrene

The increase in prices for ABS plastic and acrylonitrile contradicts the downward trend in prices for styrene monomer in Asia. Initially, the rise in styrene prices was associated with limited supply in the market due to severe material shortages and ship delays. Experts believe that the styrene shortage situation will improve by the end of December or the beginning of January, as a large number of ships are planned to arrive.

In Europe, styrene prices also fell as supply continued to fall and demand was low. Market activity is expected to slow down due to quarantine measures and the upcoming holiday period.

Butadiene

The price of butadiene in China is expected to remain flat as supplies of butadiene increase following the launch of new production facilities.

The price of European butadiene is up $ 40 per tonne, the highest level since March 2019, due to material shortages as well as supply problems.

December volumes have already been sold, SABIC Wilton and Borealis plants remain closed. The Japanese company ENEOS is due to shut down a 105 ktpa butadiene plant at its Kawasaki plant in December due to an emergency repair of a naphtha steam cracker.

The news only heightened tensions in the Asian market with the recent unplanned closure of South Korean LG Chem 165,000 MT in Yeosu, pushing CFR NE Asia prices up to their highest level since January 2019. European butadiene export prices hit a 20-month high on Nov.20, as strong Asian demand remains on the back of tensions from new disruptions.

Ethylene

Asia has seen a $ 10 increase in ethylene prices due to limited supplies. In Europe, prices also rose on the back of supply problems, but the situation is expected to improve in early December.

Propylene

The rise in propylene prices in the Asian market is associated with the unexpected closure of plants. The Japanese company ENEOS will shutdown a cracking unit at Kawasaki with a production capacity of 515 thousand tons per year of ethylene and 300 thousand tons of propylene per year for about a month, starting in December, for emergency repairs. South Korean company LG Chem also plans to restart its naphtha steam cracker at Yeosu in January. The price of propylene in Korea reached an annual maximum of $ 910 / t last week. In Europe, prices rise slightly as there is a shortage of material on the spot.

Styrene plastics
Europe. ABS plastic

European ABS spot prices continued to rise amid continuing problems with polymer availability. The lack of imported materials has led to limited availability in the European market. Manufacturers were unable to fill supply gaps caused by a lack of Asian ABS grades, resulting in a sharp decline in the market. Demand in the home appliance and auto sectors remains robust, despite doubts earlier this month about the resilience of consumer demand for cars in the current environment.

Asia. ABS plastic

ABS prices in Asia rose another $ 90 per tonne in a week on the back of limited supplies amid continuing material shortages. Even the decline in styrene prices did not become a deterrent. Higher price levels in recent months have led Asian suppliers to focus on local markets.

Due to the volatility of prices for raw materials, ABS manufacturers either abstained from offers or increased the cost of the material on CFR China terms. Experts believe that this situation will continue in early December, as the demand for household appliances is still stable.

Polyolefins
Asia. High density polyethylene (HDPE)

Asian HDPE prices were robust in China last week on the back of higher futures and tight supply and renewed demand. Many sources say the Chinese plastics industry has benefited from strong domestic demand and exports of medical equipment and packaging amid lockdowns imposed to help fight the coronavirus.

As a result, on November 25, an 18-month high in HDPE prices was recorded. Fresh offers are expected to be at least $ 10-25 per tonne higher. Some converters believe polyethylene prices and supplier margins will come under pressure during 2021 as US exporters cut prices to offset future potential excess volumes. Processors expect big discounts due to weaker demand for finished goods, as well as due to a surge in restrictions on the second wave of coronavirus, growing unemployment and expectations of a worsening macroeconomic picture.

Europe. High density polyethylene (HDPE)

European HDPE spot prices continued to be supported last week by tight supply and tighter Asian spot prices, supporting producers seeking to raise prices in an attempt to recover lost margins.

Some HDPE grades continued to require tighter pricing as the lack of imports and the spike in Asian spot prices offered little alternatives to producers, despite macroeconomic uncertainty and the threat to consumer demand from rising unemployment in several European countries.

HDPE blow molded and film grades saw the largest gains, driven by sharp price increases in Asia, where prices jumped amid limited volumes. This gave European suppliers the opportunity to export their products. In addition, the lack of supplies from the United States allowed European suppliers to increase their exports.

Asia. Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)

Asian LLDPE prices rose last week on low inventories and high potential demand, as well as rising futures contracts.

The naphtha refiners are now at least 60% loaded. Stronger demand is likely to continue to drive price increases in the near term, sources said.

The problem of the lack of containers and high freight rates, which affects the polymer markets, also, according to market participants, will persist until early February 2021. While prices currently remain high, some market participants expect polymer demand to weaken in the medium term, due to restrictions related to the spread of the coronavirus in Europe. Market participants expect LLDPE prices to be contained in early 2021 due to increased production rates from US factories and exports, resulting in lower margins.

Europe. Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)

Problems with the supply of LDPE in Europe began to affect LLDPE. Food buyers for certain applications, such as food packaging, are changing formulations to use the more competitive LLDPE in their production. However, market tensions were mainly driven by a shortage of imports as the US market – a typical supplier to Europe – was still struggling to replace lost volumes following Hurricane Laura, which cut the supply chain.

In addition, the spike in Asian spot prices caused by this has supported producers who have been hit by falling margins since the beginning of the third quarter. Demand for metallocene polyethylene MLPEVD is supported by tight supplies and production disruptions, forcing manufacturers to raise prices amid falling imports. Strong demand from Asia is likely to continue to drive higher prices for European polyethylene in the near term.

Asia. Polypropylene (PP)

The Asian PP market rose sharply last week, with the benchmark raffia grade rising by $ 50-70 / t week after week in all Asian regions. The sudden jump in prices took most of the traders by surprise.

Traders generally acknowledged that the core performance of the Asian PP market was impacted by low supply as well as shipping delays and limited container availability. However, many of them felt that the rise in PP prices was too sharp, so suppliers faced strong resistance from consumers in many regions.

Sellers, meanwhile, believed it was only a matter of time for customers to accept the robust rise in PP prices due to supply shortages in parts of Southeast Asia. Demand for PP for raffia production slowed down, while demand for injection molded and grades for BOPP remained relatively healthy and strong. The production volume of PP grades for raffia is now 26%, which is slightly below the usual level of 30–35%.

Separately, traders said the limited supply from the Middle East was likely due to logistical problems. Potential shipping delays and container availability issues have also held back trade, especially for January shipments.

Europe. Polypropylene (PP)

The strong demand for PP in the European market was met by a decrease in the spot availability of material. The availability of spot material in the market declined as exports of European PP grades continued to reach destinations in North America, South America and North Africa. Sources said imports of materials of Asian origin, such as South Korea, fell, exacerbating market tensions.

Unlike previous years, PP demand at the end of November did not show significant signs of slowing down, which was well received by market participants. Sources said the market has traditionally experienced a downturn towards the end of November and December, but this year consumption has performed better than expected.