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US polyethylene exports down 12.5% on year in Jan-Apr 2021: ITC

Highlights

Decline reflects fallout from February deep freeze

US PP exports down 12.9% on year in Jan-Apr 2021

US polyethylene exports in the first four months of 2021 were 12.5% lower than the January-April period of 2020, reflecting continued fallout from a deep freeze in February that forced weeks-long production shutdowns, according US International Trade Commission data showed June 9.

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The US shipped out 1.846 million mt of PE in the January-April period, down from 2.11 million mt in the year-ago span, the data showed.

Production sharply curtailed by freeze-related shutdowns has largely rebounded, but the data reflects a lengthy recovery. Many force majeures on PE declared during the freeze remain in effect as producers race to meet strong demand in US and international markets while trying to restock inventories.

RELATED: US PVC exports down 18.4% on year in Jan-Apr 2021: ITC

"We continue to see demand strength coupled with constrained inventory levels as the industry manages the backlog of customer orders and supply pressures from the impact of" the February freeze, Dow Chemical CEO Jim Fitterling said at a June 3 conference.

PE is used to make the world's most-used plastics, from grocery bags and shampoo bottles to toothpaste tubes and buckets.

At the height of coronavirus pandemic-related shutdowns in the US in April 2020, some producers cut rates or shut down plants in response to reduced demand. But PE demand in domestic and international markets was more resilient than that for resins used to make more durable plastics.

The US exported 1.834 million mt of PE in the first four months of 2019, when there was no freeze or pandemic-related shutdowns, down 0.6% from January-April 2021 outflows, ITC data show.

Mexico was the top recipient of US PE exports in the first four months of 2021, having received 384,570 mt, or 20.8% of the total. Canada was second with 204,667 mt, or 11% of the total, followed by china with 199,501 mt, or 10.8% of the total, the ITC data showed.

US polypropylene exports show decline from 2020 levels

US polypropylene exports declined as well, the ITC data showed. PP outflows in the first four months of 2021 reached 516,389 mt, down 12.9% from 593,327 mt in the year-ago period.

In January-April 2019, the US exported 553,460 mt of PP – up 7% from 516,389 mt in the same period of 2021, but down 6.7% from 593,327 mt in the January-April period of 2020, the date showed.

PP is used to make durable plastics, such as dashboards and door panels in cars, plastic linings in appliances and carpet backing. It also is used to make non-woven fabrics for medical masks and gowns.

PP demand crashed amid the height of pandemic-related shutdowns in April 2020, but began rebounding as shutdowns eased and demand rose for durable goods like vehicles, homes and appliances.

Market sources said spot PP export volume availability has been largely nil for months, which was exacerbated by freeze-related shutdowns in February that prompted many force majeures by US producers that largely remain in effect.

PP exports are much more regional than those of other US-origin resins, with most outflows going to Mexico and Canada for use in producing vehicle parts and other durable plastics.

Mexico and Canada received 425,215 mt, or 82%, of all US outflows in the first four months of 2021, the ITC data showed. Malaysia came in third with 14,061 mt, or 2.7% of the total.