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Global Recovered Paper Market Stabilizes After Spring Dip

Chinese buyers—a major consumer of recovered paper from markets globally—slowed their intake in April.

Recent tumult in the global market for recovered paper, particularly for lower grades of fiber, seems to be winding down with prices creeping back up after a dip earlier this spring.

After bottoming out in 2015 and early 2016, recycled paper pricing had been on an upward trajectory for about a year. That is until a recent blip in markets upended that momentum.

Chinese buyers—a major consumer of recovered paper from markets globally—slowed their intake in April. That was compounded by escalating freight costs, cheaper competing products in some parts of the world and increased scrutiny during port inspections in China.

“Within our business, we have seen time and time again that sooner or later after a run up, you hit a brick wall and prices come down,” says Phil Epstein, executive vice president of Ekman Recycling, a large paper broker. “That’s what happened around the second week of March when the big buyers in China decided they had sufficient inventory and the demand for our finished product diminished.”

While prices are steadily rising for now, Ekman, which exports to 25 countries daily, has cut back production for now.

“Our business can change from hour to hour,” Epstein says. “The prices at the end of February reached the highest level since 1994 and 1995. By the second week of March they had dropped 40 percent from peak [globally], which was the low for the year…. We’ve seen prices rebound by about 20 percent in the last 45 to 50 days. Our feeling is the market will continue to move up gradually.”

According to Recycling International, the U.K. saw prices for old corrugated cardboard (OCC) drop to half of peak levels. Similar events were reported in Indonesia, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

Earlier in April, Recycling International  reported OCC values in Europe plummeted from nearly 177 euros per ton (about $194) in the first quarter to below 90  euros per ton (about $98.50)

Numbers from SecondaryFiberPricing.com show a dip in U.S. prices on OCC while prices for news remained flat. But the moves were not as dramatic as reported in other countries.  

“Having been in business for as many years as we have, we figure ways to maintain normal volumes. [In more difficult times] you just scramble and look for whatever orders you can find. If not in China, you look at Indonesia or South America or some other outlet,” Epstein says.

There have been ebbs and flows in the past. Chinese imports decreased by nearly 1 million tons in 2013. Recovered paper sellers endured a significant drop in exports as a result, reports RISI, information providers for the global forest products industry.

“Having been in business for as many years as we have, we figure ways to maintain normal volumes. [In more difficult times] you just scramble and look for whatever orders you can find. If not in China, you look at Indonesia or South America or some other outlet,” Epstein says.

The organization lays out the prediction that, over the next five years, global recovered paper demand will pick up its pace, with developing regions driving demand, translating to business growth for suppliers in developed regions.

Looking at the pattern over the past decade, the U.S. packaging market, fueled by e-commerce, has driven demand domestically and created competition for the same supply in the U.S. and overseas.

Some analysts believe online shopping trends will continue to carry the market for lower grade papers over the long run. A recent report projects retail e-commerce, valued at $14.7 billion in 2015, will reach $21.7 billion by 2022.

Large paper manufacturer and paper recycler Pratt Industries done well largely due to the OCC market, driven by the packaging boom. The company’s volume was up in early April, largely to the recent opening of a fourth 100 percent recycled paper mill, and construction of new corrugated box plants. Earlier this month, it also opened facilities in South Carolina and Georgia.

Pratt sold over 1.3 million tons of 100 percent recycled boxes in 2016.

Meanwhile the American Forest & Paper Association’s member companies are holding out that the demand for recovered paper will live on into the future. They are shooting to increase U.S. paper recovery rates to over 70 percent by 2020; following a record high recovery rate in 2015.

TAGS: Recycling
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