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Jan Paul van der Velde, senior VP for procurement at Flint Group, provides insight into expected raw material cost developments in 2012

There is a misplaced view that raw material costs for the graphic art industry are coming down. After more than 18 months of costs constantly increasing, people have clearly been looking for good news and we witnessed prices generally stabilise in Q4 2011, which brought a sense that things were improving. People also assumed that these difficult economic times would contribute to raw material costs going down.

The reality is that, with the exception of Gum Rosin, which dropped a bit in Q4 and Q1 but is now already on the way back up, hardly any materials dropped significantly in price. Most materials stabilised at high levels or with very minor reductions, but when compared with the increases we have seen, they are still at near record levels. Overall, costs for the ink industry will be higher in 2012 than they were in 2011, which had itself been a record high year.”

Crude oil in 2011 was on average higher than in 2008, when we all spoke about the crude oil crisis. We have already witnessed 2012 prices creep almost silently past 2011 figures. Crude is the single largest cost driver for the ink industry, with many materials linked to this, such as mineral oils, hydrocarbon resins, carbon black and solvents, in addition to many other chemicals also indirectly linked to crude.

Crude is also a good example of how raw materials have resisted the economic conditions to remain at record high prices. Of course, there is the tension in the Middle East, but it is demand and speculation that has driven the prices and, unfortunately, this situation has also been replicated in the costs of many of our own base chemicals such as benzene, toluene, styrene, and propylene.

The crude oil costing has a significant knock-on effect and is a good example of the challenges that the ink producers have these days. Due to the high costs of Phenolic resins, many ink producers introduced hybrids in 2011, which are based on a combination of Phenolic and HydroCarbon resins. However, due to the crude increases, this cost-effective alternative is gone.

Unfortunately, I believe we are running out of alternatives to protect our customers fully from the inevitable; costs will continue to rise in the next few years due to the trend of increasing raw material costs caused by the global increased shortages and the better cost/price management of the chemical giants. Further speculation on major commodities will only serve to compound the negative price effect further.

The ink industry is somewhat dependent on materials coming from China. Actually, if you produce pigments, in China, India, Europe or the US, many of the intermediates are only available from China. Also, for key intermediates for UV materials and other speciality materials China has the key for the costs. Further, 70% of the world production of Gum Rosin is of Chinese origin.

With the strength of the Chinese Yuan versus the US dollar and the ongoing 5% revaluation annually, pigments and all other Chinese origin materials will continue to increase in cost. Add to that the increased costs of environment in China and India, the container transport costs and, for those based in Europe, the weakness of the Euro, and you already have quite a difficult cost scenario.

Specific materials also have their own issues. Yellow pigments are expected to increase sharply in price in Q2, driven by the sharp increases of benzene in China. Blue pigments are under pressure due to Copper and PA. The story of TiO2 is even more frightening with all producers again announcing major price increases, which will be the sixth quarter in a row. Further, due to the increases in styrene and propylene, we will also see water-based resins and UV resins increase.

What surprises me is that the graphic arts industry seems to deny the facts. Of course nobody likes to talk about cost increases, but the customer has the right to know. We understand that our customers commit themselves to forward contracts with their customers based on their knowledge of costs developments. Flint Group has been a leader in sharing information with our customers about issues affecting the worldwide supply of critical raw materials.”

Jan Paul van der Velde’s full Raw Material Cost Developments report can be found at: www.flintgrp.com


Jan Paul van der Velde Jan Paul van der Velde

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Flint Group