US exports of construction staple polyvinyl chloride in the first four months of 2021 were 18.4% lower than in the January-April period of 2020, reflecting fallout from tight supply and strong domestic demand, according to US International Trade Commission data released June 9.
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The US shipped out 673,664 mt of PVC over January-April 2021, compared to 825,996 mt in the year-ago period, the data showed.
April 2020 marked the height of coronavirus pandemic-related shutdowns in the US, which hindered construction activity and prompted sharp production cuts. Upstream chlor-alkali rates plunged to 68% in April 2020 from 90% in March that year, industry statistics show.
PVC is used to make pipes, window frames, vinyl siding and other products.
In 2021, sustained subfreezing temperatures hit the US Gulf Coast and much of the US in mid-February, forcing widespread weeks-long petrochemical plant shutdowns. February chlor-alkali rates fell to 59% from 82% in January, and then rose to 71% in March and 80% in April, industry statistics show.
In the first four months of 2019, when there were no pandemic-related or freeze-related issues, the US exported more than 1 million mt of PVC, ITC data show. Exports in the January-April period of 2021 were 34.5% lower, illustrating the continued impact of the February freeze as well as turnarounds and operational issues that have kept US PVC supply tight.
Strong domestic PVC demand also shrinks export volume availability
In addition, domestic PVC demand has remained strong amid a continued housing boom fueled by consumers seeking more space when working from home amid the pandemic.
April 2021 housing starts reached 1.569 million units, according to US Census Bureau data. The year began with 1.625 million units in January, which plunged nearly 11% to 1.447 million units in February because of the freeze. Housing starts jumped 22.5% to 1.733 million units in March, reflecting a catch-up from starts hindered the month prior and retreated 11.5% in April.
That demand has pushed domestic PVC prices up by 42 cents/lb ($926/mt) since June 2020 to 88-90 cents/lb ($1,940-$1,984/mt) in early June 2021, an all-time high since S&P Global Platts began assessing the market in 2001.
Export PVC prices rose $1,280/mt from $520/mt FAS on April 29, 2020, to $1,800/mt FAS on March 24 and they held at $1,800 until April 28, when they began retreating, and were last assessed at $1,600/mt FAS on June 3.
The ITC data showed that Canada was the top recipient of US PVC exports in the first four months of 2021 at 176,122 mt, followed by Mexico at 82,307 mt, Peru at 38,416 mt and Egypt at 36,997 mt.