After a slow beginning to the year as China battled the Corona virus, polyolefin imports picked up moderately in March and April then soared to new record highs in May. Prices continued their steep declines.
After trending higher since December and reaching record levels in March, the total volume of US exports across all the ethylene polymers was down in April. Shipments for the month were down 10% from March, but the magnitude of the decline varied greatly by specific polymer and also by region.
Exports of ethylene polymers to China accounted for more than half of Singapore’s and Korea’s total exports in 2019 but shipments to China from both countries plummeted in January, and, especially, in February, the most current month available.
After slowing in November, 2019, US exports of ethylene polymers climbed in both December and January 2020. Little impact on volumes and prices from the corona virus is expected in US export statistics for February, with March and following months affected more severely.
Trade volume by year end is projected at 22 million tons, down 2% from 2018 based on the latest statistics from 50 countries. This compared with an 11% gain in global trade volume in 2018 versus 2017. Prominent trends in 2019 include a drop in Asia-Pacific intra-regional trade, increased exports from the Middle East, and lower shipments from North America.
In April 2019, for the second month in a row, China’s imports of ethylene polymers hit a new record high. Year to date, reduced volumes from North America were offset by increased volumes from Asia-Pacific sources.
Two main factors – the startup of new capacity plus tariffs on exports to China – have resulted in large regional shifts in US exports of linear PE. Exports have increased to all regions but especially to Western and Eastern Europe, and combined shipments to those regions now exceed those to Asia-Pacific.