Resin prices on the rise

UPR, vinyl ester and gel coat prices are on the rise in the US, Europe and the Middle East. The culprit, it appears is styrene, whose supply is short thanks to unforeseen technical problems.

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One-year US Nymex crude oil price through Feb. 22, 2017, $/barrel.

Since the start of 2017, I have received 21 press releases from a variety of suppliers announcing price increases for resins sold into the Unites States, Europe and the Middle East. By comparison, from July 2016 to the end of the year, I received six such press releases. 

You can find here a full list of all composite resin price increases, dating back to 2011.

The resins listed in such press releases usually include unsaturated polyester, vinyl ester and gelcoats. And the announcements usually include a short statement justifying the increase — something along these lines: "Raw material costs continue to increase quickly across the board due to various shortages causing tight supply of many products."

When the price of oil fell below $40/barrel, about 12-18 months ago, it was not unusual to go several months without a resin price increase from any material supplier. Over the last year, however, as the above image shows, the price of oil has steadily risen, fueled in part by OPEC's decision to limit production, combined with a resurgent US economy. Still, has the price of oil increased so much as to explain the rash of price increases since the start of the year? The answer is probably, "No."

Many of the press releases, as noted above, reference shortage of raw materials, like this statement from AOC: "This increase is in part the result of the styrene shortage gripping the North American market which is of a magnitude and duration not seen in many years. The rapidly escalating styrene prices are being compounded by continued increases in other key raw materials such as maleic anhydride, phthalic anhydride, glycols and TiO2, among others, thus requiring this increase."

Indeed, London-based news agency Platts reported on Feb. 16 that an unexpected styrene shortage in the US has driven prices to a 30-month high. The report says that 40% of US styrene production capacity has been affected by technical issues. This has had a ripple effect globally, primarily because the US is a net exporter of styrene, mostly to Central America, Asia and Europe.

Analysts quoted on the Platts report suggested that US styrene supplies could remain tight through the end of April, while supply in Europe is expected to loosen up in March. This is cold comfort to composites fabricators, who are bearing the financial burden of this supply inequity.