China’s fine paper and cartonboard prices drop while recycled containerboard prices stabilize

Price plunges for pulp grades brought down fine paper and cartonboard prices while supply curtailment and paid off for recycled containerboard

Prices for fine paper and cartonboard prices in China declined in April due to oversupply and a ripple effect from tumbling market wood pulp prices, while recycled containerboard price levels showed signs of bottoming out, staying flat or edging up slightly.

Following the across-the-board plunges in March, prices for recycled containerboard grades stabilized in early April. Board mills’ ongoing efforts on supply curtailment paid off and local old corrugated containers (OCC) prices, which are often seen as a bellwether of recycled containerboard prices, started to recover from record lows after China imposed a total ban on recovered paper imports in 2021.

Most board producers began pushing for hikes for testliner and corrugating medium grades, typically by RMB 50 ($7.20) per tonne, from the first week of April.

Though downstream demand for packaging materials has remained tepid, converting and box plants, which had cut their board purchases to the minimum in the preceding two months when prices had fallen continuously, came back to replenish their depleted stocks in early April when they considered prices had reached the bottom.

In the eastern part of China, the average price for high-strength corrugating medium was up by RMB 40 per tonne from the level in late March, while the average testliner price moved up by RMB 57 per tonne.

Chinese board mills have kept kraft-top liner and white-top liner mostly stable in April. The two grades are partly furnished with virgin wood pulp and imported recycled pulp, the prices of which are both under downward pressure, hence unable to support board price rises from a cost perspective. The average white-top liner price remain unchanged from the end of March.

Kraft-top liner’s average price was also steady from a month ago. Some mills have reportedly cut prices for their most premium kraft-top liner products by RMB 50 this month, but the products are not covered in PPI Asia’s price assessment.

KLB prices drop

The plunging prices for unbleached kraft pulp (UKP), one of the main raw materials for high-end kraft-top liner production, are part of the reason behind the price falls. Meanwhile, softening prices for imported virgin fiber-based kraftliner (KLB) have also deterred local mills from hiking kraft-top liner prices as the two grades compete in some applications. Prices for imports of KLB have largely fallen for April orders, down $25 at the top end from March.

The bottom half of the range is mostly dominated by Russian KLB. China’s KLB imports from Russia have surged after the war in Ukraine broke out last year and numerous Russian products, including its KLB, were subject to sanctions in Europe. According to China Customs data, the country imported nearly 75,000 tonnes of KLB from Russia, up 143% from the same period of 2022.

Russia’s Ilim Group has told its clients in China that it is preparing to start up its 600,000 tonne per year KLB machine at its Ust-Ilimsk mill in Siberia in June, indicating that more Russian KLB will be entering the Chinese market in the second half of this year.

Cartonboard prices down

The price declines for virgin cartonboard grades have continued as China is braced for the impact of new capacity.

Liansheng Pulp & Paper is approaching the startup of a 1.2 million tpy virgin boxboard machine at its new mill in Zhangpu, Fujian province. A company spokesperson told PPI Asia that trial production will begin in May. Most of the new BM’s output will be coated ivory board.

With new supply looming, the average price for commodity coated ivory board declined RMB 167 per tonne this week from one month ago. The average price for the premium grade dropped by RMB 100 per tonne this week.

The sliding coated ivory board prices have taken a toll on recycled fiber-based grayback coated duplex board market. As of last Wednesday, the average price for premium grayback coated duplex board was down by RMB 150 per tonne from late February. The commodity grade’s average was pressed down by RMB 100 per tonne this week.

Fine paper prices fall

The meltdown of market wood pulp prices has had a knock-on effect on the fine paper sector. Paper buyers have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, holding back from placing orders and expecting paper mills to cut prices substantially as their fiber costs have eased.

As a result, the average prices for premium coated fine paper (CFP) shifted down by RMB 116 per tonne in eastern China this week from the price in late March. Commodity CFP’s average prices dropped RMB 163 per tonne.

In the uncoated fine paper (UFP) sector, prices for the grade furnished with 100% chemical pulp moved south by RMB 100 per tonne in a month. UFP furnished with a mixture of chemical and mechanical pulp plummeted to RMB 6,460 per tonne.

Chinese domestic newsprint prices stable

Domestic newsprint prices in China have continued to stay in the range of RMB 5,900-6,100 per tonne in April.

Resale prices for imported newsprint, mostly from Russia, are around RMB 4,600-4,700 per tonne. Chinese trader contacts told PPI Asia that recently they are seeing more delays in deliveries of Russian newsprint.

A contact from a leading Russian newsprint producer said the delays are largely due to logistics bottlenecks as the trains traffic jams on the border of China are getting more common. The vast majority of Russian newsprint is transported to China by rail.

This article was taken from PPI Asia, the industry’s most trusted pulp and paper market news and prices for Asia. Speak to our team to find out more and subscribe to our newsletters.

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