In each issue of FreeFlow magazine, our business leaders from around the world share their insights into the global methacrylates markets.

Here, Jay Smith, USA Monomers Business Director, offers his latest views and analysis (as of January 2021).

Could you explain the MMA supply/demand situation in the Americas?

MMA supply was balanced throughout 2020 due to the demand surge from acrylic protection barrier sheets to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Demand for these clear sheets offset the downturn from numerous other segments throughout the year. As we neared the end of the calendar year, we witnessed historical highs in demand for the season due to pent-up demand coming from the construction and automotive sectors while the sheet market stabilised to normal levels. Demand is amazingly intense but is believed to be short lived and expected to normalise by the end of Q1 once much of the demand backlog has been addressed.

How have raw materials in the Americas been impacted by COVID-19?

Most of the raw materials for MMA produced via ACH technology – all western MMA technology is ACH-based – were not affected, except for acetone. COVID-19 significantly stifled the construction and automotive sectors, both of which are heavy users of phenol. Acetone is the co-product or by-product of phenol and it was in short supply throughout 2020. In the Americas, all acetone suppliers allocated the supply of acetone, which resulted in producers having to seek high-cost spot volumes to meet the sheet demand surge. While phenol demand is starting to improve, acetone supply remains constrained and pricing is still elevated. The outlook is that phenol demand and acetone supply will normalise by the end of Q1 with pricing remaining relatively flat at the current value.

How will the site closure of the Beaumont, Texas facility affect supply to Lucite International customers in the Americas?

Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) has conducted an assessment of its 12 MMA production assets globally using numerous criteria, including efficiency and cost. Based upon the findings, the business decision was made to permanently close the Beaumont production site for MMA and MAA production. MCC has successfully operated a global supply chain for MMA and MAA for the past 3 years and it is our intention to be able to utilise this capability to provide an improved level of service and security for customers in the Americas with continuous, routine supply into the region. Lucite, and thus MCC, has an American site that will continue production in Memphis, Tennessee and two large-scale bulk terminals that will maintain substantial inventory at all times as well as other loading and drumming sites. Customers will not see a difference in how MMA supply is sourced, only that there will be a greater reliability of supply and better service.