Containerboard prices in China drop in November as Covid-19 curbs hit demand

Strict Covid-19 restrictions are stifling packaging demand in China and triggering production curbs for recycled containerboard producers

In China, recycled containerboard prices dropped again in November as harsh but increasingly ineffective attempts to curb the ongoing nationwide Covid-19 flare-ups stifled packaging demand.

Since early November, many cities in China, including the capital Beijing, the southern trade hub of Guangzhou and the southwestern megacity Chongqing, have experienced their worst ever Covid-19 outbreaks, sending the country’s daily infections to record highs.

Though the central government appears to be tweaking its stringent Covid-19 restrictions in a bid to minimize the economic costs, the absence of a transparent, harmonized guideline for shifting away from the “zero-Covid” policy has left the world’s most populous country in a topsy-turvy situation, with some local authorities sticking to citywide lockdowns and others flip-flopping on epidemic control measures.

Though the cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing abruptly announced the easing of Covid-19 curbs on Wednesday despite high local infections, people in most parts of the country are still subject to frequent tests and inter-city or inter-provincial travel restrictions while thousands of factories, including the famous iPhone assembly plant Foxconn in Zhengzhou city, Henan province, remain in a closed-loop operation that curtails workers’ movement to the site.

The chaotic situation has hit the country’s economy on all fronts, not sparing demand for packaging materials, pressing down prices for containerboard grades.

  • As of November 30, in the eastern part of China, the average price for high-strength corrugating medium was RMB 3,640/tonne ($514/tonne), down RMB 110/tonne from a month ago.
  • The average price for testliner shifted down from RMB 3,960/tonne in late October to RMB 3,848/tonne this week.
  • Kraft-top liner’s average dropped by RMB 80/tonne to RMB 4,738/tonne.
  • Average white-top liner prices declined by RMB 50/tonne to RMB 6,175/tonne.

Besides the price erosions, recycled containerboard producers have resorted to production curbs again to tackle sluggish demand and rising inventories after taking massive downtime from July to early October.

Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) and Shanying International Holdings, the largest recycled containerboard producers in China, have announced downtime for some of their mills from late November to January next year.

It is common for board mills to take maintenance downtime around the Lunar New Year (which falls on January 22, 2023), but it is very rare to see them to slow down production more than 50 days ahead of the holiday, during what is supposed to be a peak season for the packaging industry.

KLB prices slump

Prices for virgin fiber-based kraftliner (KLB) imports plunged from $600-790/tonne in October to $550-730/tonne for November orders due to weak demand in China and excessive supply from exporters, in particular in the USA, Russia and Australasia.

While Russian KLB has continued to flood into the Chinese market as it faces sanctions in many other countries, key US suppliers of KLB cut their prices for exports to China by $50-60/tonne for November orders as their domestic market saw a fast-moving corrugated box demand downturn.

In November, North America’s domestic open market witnessed the first price decline for linerboard since the early summer of 2019, sister publication PPI Pulp & Paper Week reported.

The price declines appear to have failed to revive Chinese traders’ appetite for KLB imports, at least for the time being.

The global economic slowdown is not in favour of KLB consumption, as a large share of the product is used to package export goods.

“We have been in the KLB trading business for decades and we have seen ups and downs, but we have never seen so much uncertainty about the next few months, as no one knows when we will be allowed to exit the zero-Covid policy,” said a Chinese trader contact.

Boxboard mixed

Despite slow demand for recycled boxboard, prices for coated duplex board recorded a slight uptick in November, thanks to the October removal of nearly 1.1 million tonnes/yr of capacity by Nine Dragons as the company switched to virgin cartonboard production on two BMs – one at its Dongguan mill and the other at its Chongqing mill.

In eastern China, premium coated duplex board’s average price edged up from RMB 4,675 in late October to RMB 4,700/tonne this week. The commodity grade went up from RMB 4,090/tonne to RMB 4,128/tonne.

Meanwhile, the oversupply situation in the virgin fiber-based coated ivory board sector has been aggravated.

Despite the attempts to boost exports by producers, including newcomer Nine Dragons, domestic prices for commodity coated ivory board in eastern China dropped by RMB 150/tonne in a month to RMB 5,520/tonne this week.

The average price for the premium grade stayed flat at RMB 7,400/tonne.

This article was taken from PPI Asia, the industry’s most trusted pulp and paper market news and prices for Asia. Join paper industry executives, buyers, industry suppliers and financial institutions around the world and keep up to date on the latest market prices and information from Asia. Speak to our team to find out more and subscribe to our newsletters.

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