U.S.
U.S. RESIN PRICES IN CURRENT DOLLARS
(Adjusted Using the "Producer Price Index for
Crude Materials for Further Processing")
 
Price Per Pound
Resin
June 1955
Oct. 1965
Dec. 1979
Polyethylene
$2.25-2.96
$0.79-1.34
$0.73-0.78
Polypropylene
$1.34-1.93
$0.65-0.80
Polystyrene
$1.73-2.47
$0.70-1.40
$0.76-0.89
PVC, Rigid Extrusion Compd.
$2.06
$1.34
$0.62-0.66

Today's red-hot resin prices are enough to give anyone heartburn. It's pretty hard to swallow polyethylene prices within hailing distance of a dollar a pound and polypropylene and polystyrene from 70¢ to 80¢ a pound or more. Even PVC—a relative bargain—costs something like 60¢ to 65¢/lb for a rigid window-profile compound. I believe these are all-time highs, not counting the period just after World War II, when I'm told polyethylene went for five bucks a pound.

I have to say that I'm impressed with plastics processors' resilience: While facing crushing cost pressures—for materials and energy and freight, insurance, labor, etc.—they're also fighting off competition from China and trying to gain ground over traditional materials. Processors are facing today's challenges with less distress than three or four years ago when they were suffering from lack of orders. Now even though prices are way up, so is business, and the level of complaints seems lower.

I don't know if it's any consolation, but years ago the plastics industry achieved phenomenal growth even though prices of commodity resins were higher (in constant dollars) than today. This is the 50th anniversary year for this magazine, so I went back to 1955 to check on resin prices. As you can see by the table, the price equivalents in today's dollars are shocking. They got better—but not by a whole lot—10 years later. Even in late 1979, during the second Oil Shock, prices were less than or comparable to today's levels. When you consider how much better the resins are today, and how much more value you can get out of each pound, maybe today's prices aren't such a bad deal.