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REPEAT CYCLE

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Paper prices start off the year on an upswing.

SDB Staff January 29, 2013

Prices for scrap paper started the new year by moving up during the first several weeks of January. Many dealers are asking whether the uptick in demand and pricing for most paper stock grades has staying power or if the market will give back many of these gains with commensurate declines later in the first quarter of the year.

One recycler says sorted office paper (SOP) seems to be in strong demand throughout the country.

Sources marketing material to Mexico also are enjoying healthier orders. The improvement is strongest with deinking and office grades. A supplier in the Midwest and a paper stock dealer in the Southwest say Mexican mills let inventories decline toward the end of 2012. Now, these same mills are re-entering the market aggressively to rebuild their inventories. Paper stock grades that are the chief beneficiaries of this buying pattern are office pack, coated book stock, sorted white ledger and a handful of pulp substitutes.

A large dealer of bulk grades from the Southwest says that as part of their tax reduction strategies, these Mexican mills reduce their recovered fiber inventories at the end of the year. However, these mills are not currently seeing stronger demand for their finished products.

As of mid-January bulk grades, such as old corrugated containers (OCC), and high grades, such as sorted office paper, coated book stock and manifold and sorted white ledger, all have seen price increases. Also seeing modest improvement in pricing in early 2013 is a range of pulp substitute grades.

While it is still early in 2013, several sources say paper stock markets shape up to be a repeat of 2012, when markets during the first half of the year stoked optimism, only to give back all of those gains in the second half of the year.

“We had a fantastic first six months of last year, so I am optimistic,” one Midwestern paper stock dealer says. However, he adds, “Right now it feels like 2013 will be like 2012.”

One broker on the East Coast says demand for all paper stock grades is healthy. OCC demand from domestic mills is keeping the supply of material at packing plants to a minimum. Other bulk grades are moving well, though they are not displaying the same robust nature as OCC.

Another source, also located in the East, describes the market as “false,” despite the improvements in demand and pricing. He adds, “Markets are moving up, but I don’t know why.”

He says markets for some high grades could start to soften as early as February if tissue and towel mills don’t see a significant increase in orders for finished products. At the present, he says, many of the mills he supplies are looking to rebuild depleted inventories.

OCC is seeing stronger demand from domestic and offshore sources alike. Several paper stock dealers say orders to domestic mills are improving. Their recovered fiber inventories had declined through the end of 2012. These mills are now rebuilding these stocks, which is keeping demand for OCC strong.

One source says markets are so healthy that one recycled board mill in the Midwest is paying export-comparable prices for OCC to guarantee its supply.

Although export markets have improved, one East Coast broker says there is less activity on the West Coast than on the East Coast. A contributing factor in early January was concern about a threatened strike at more than a dozen ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

Another source says ONP (old newspapers) demand isn’t strong currently, though orders from the Northwest have been a bright spot.

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