US flat glass sales rebound in 2018 amid improved production

By Michael Greenfield
Published: Tuesday, 26 February 2019

US flat glass sales rebound in 2018, with producers forecasting another positive year in 2019

Flat glass sales by producers in the United States were mostly higher in 2018, easing the glass supply shortage seen in the past two years, according to research from Key Media & Research (KMR).

This indicated a turnaround for a sector hit by unexpected shutdowns and a natural disaster in 2016 and 2017, according to US-based KMR.

But supply of soda ash, a critical raw material for glass production, remains tight and that has caused producers to increase their sales prices.

Several major US soda ash producers have announced price increases in the past six months as a result of tight soda ash supply.

Genesis Alkali, which operates in the US state of Wyoming, raised its packaged prices by $15 per ton from September 13 last year.

On the same day, Tata Chemicals increased its price by $10 per ton for US and Canada bulk shipments from its plant in the Green River basin, Wyoming.

Another Wyoming-based operative is Solvay, which introduced a $10 per ton increase on its soda ash prices as of January 1, 2019.

All prices increases were within Fastmarkets’ monthly soda ash price range, so the assessment was unchanged over the period.

Fastmarkets’ monthly price assessment for soda ash, natural, dense, large contracts, fob Wyoming, US, was $200-230 per tonne on January 31.

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Flat glass, or plane glass, is used in windows, glass
walls and vehicle windscreens.
Marian Kroell, via upsplash 

Supply returns

Meanwhile, flat glass supply is coming back to the US market after shutdowns that have plagued manufacturers over the past few years.

"Major float lines in the US [are] going back into operation in 2018," the KMR report said. "In 2017, three of the five primary glass manufacturers with float lines in the US faced unexpected shutdowns and extended repairs due to major incidents."

A tornado damaged a float glass factory owned by Pilkington North America in LaSalle County, Illinois. The plant had been expected to return to operation in November 2017, having been damaged by a tornado in February that year.

Pilkington was unable to confirm how long the plant was offline when contacted by Fastmarkets.

Meanwhile, an explosion on June 3, 2017, at a Guardian plant in Iowa took that plant offline. A company statement made at the time said that glass production would "resume soon". Guardian was not available for comment when contacted by Fastmarkets.

Elsewhere, a fire in August 2017 halted operations of both production lines at a Vitro Architectural Glass plant in Pennsylvania for a year. Vitro was not available for comment to verify when operations resumed.

When asked at the beginning of 2018, 91% of glass suppliers told KMR that they expected sales to increase in that year, and this has started to happen.

Vitro, which is North America’s largest glass producer according to its website, saw a 10% increase in flat glass sales in the first three quarters of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017.

France-headquartered Saint-Gobain increased its North American sales by 6.8% through quarters one to three in 2018, against that same period a year earlier.

But there was a 2% decrease in flat glass sales in the US for AGC, which has its headquarters in Tokyo.

For 2019, 82% of US glass suppliers polled in the report forecast an increase in sales compared with 2018, with nearly half of them expecting a spike of 10% or more.

Profit expectations, however, were not at the same levels although they were still positive.

Just over one-third of companies forecast an increase in profits of 10% or more, and another 35% were expecting profits to increase by less than 10%. This could be because glass companies have been dealing with growing cost pressures.

The KMR report did not provide tonnages for sales or production.