After several consecutive months of considerable gains in pricing for recovered fiber grades, most notably for old corrugated containers (OCC) and mixed paper, domestic and export pricing for these grades dropped dramatically across the board in April.
With the exception of sorted office paper (SOP), which saw the only price increase of any secondary paper grade—gaining $10 per ton in the Pacific Northwest—all major recovered fiber grades declined in price in the domestic market. Mixed paper pricing fell $40 per ton in the Pacific Northwest region, $30 per ton in the Los Angeles/San Francisco region, $25 per ton in the Northeast and $10 per ton in the Southeast and Midwest, according to the April 5 PPW Yellow Sheet from Boston-based research firm RISI. The U.S. average price for mixed paper in April fell to $73.06 per ton after hitting the highest price it has ever reached of $96.11 per ton in March. The last time mixed paper saw this price was in November 2016.
OCC pricing slipped by $35 per ton out of every region on the West Coast, by $20 per ton in the Northeast, by $10 per ton in the South and by $5 per ton in the Midwest.
Export prices to China, which also increased over several consecutive months, saw striking shrinkage. Mixed paper’s pricing downturn of $62 to $77 per ton FAS (free alongside ship, meaning the seller must deliver goods to a named port alongside a vessel designated by the buyer) is on par with the drop in old newspapers (ONP) pricing of $63 to $76 per ton FAS. (Total North American newsprint demand in February declined 10 percent from one year prior, according to RISI.)
Pricing for OCC exports to China dropped by $43 per ton out of Chicago’s port and by $51 per ton out of New York’s port.
Despite these dramatic drops in pricing, one source says, “We’ll see additional drops.”
He says as prices for finished products went up over the last several months, box makers bought even more recovered fiber to build their inventories. “Now they have a heavy inventory of finished product, so when the mills said, ‘We want to raise your prices,” they said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that, we have enough stuff.’”
He predicts China’s demand for recovered paper from the U.S. will continue to decline, “so the price can go down more.”
The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) recently published its February data, showing recovered paper exports have seen an overall decline across grades, according to the April 10 Weekly Market Report from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington. The report goes on to say China’s National Sword 2017 initiative “appears to be the primary driver as exports to China were the hardest hit, particularly for OCC and mixed paper, which both declined 15 percent from the previous month.”
The purchase and sale of recovered fiber for domestic and export transactions is a major topic for the Paper Stock Industries (PSI) Chapter of ISRI. A message from PSI President Myles Cohen says PSI’s Specifications Team is proposing significant changes to the rules governing the buying and selling of secondary paper. PSI hosted its third PSI Summit SPECtacular April 26-27 in New Orleans, which Cohen calls, “one of the most important meetings regarding rules for recovered paper trading.”
There, PSI welcomed opinions and perspectives on changes made to the “Specifications Circular,” including new moisture guidelines; rule changes for downgrades, rejections and claims; changes to the definitions of outthrows and prohibitives; changes to shipping instructions; and proposals for domestic and export transactions. Any changes and final decisions resulting from the meeting will head to ISRI’s board of directors for a vote before implementation.