Middle East: New increases in GCC-area testliner and fluting prices as second quarter starts

Unprecedented rainfall in mid-April causes a slowdown in the box business across the UAE, impacting local industries and economies

Prices for locally produced containerboard moved north again in April in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as manufacturers pushed for price hikes for the month or the second quarter. Contacts on the supply side motivated these moves with higher costs for raw materials and logistics, price increases in other regions such as Europe and North America, and less competition from low-priced imports.

Our contributors mostly reported higher and sometimes unchanged prices. As a result, PIX Testliner GCC increased by 10.17 dollars, or by 2.29%, and settled at 454.13 USD/t. PIX Fluting GCC advanced by 8.24 dollars, or by 1.95%, and closed at 430.84 USD/t.

The big topic of conversation in the GCC countries recently has been the heavy rains that hit the Arabian Peninsula on April 15-17. Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the worst affected, with more than 20 fatalities reported and floods in cities such as Dubai and Sharjah, but the rain was also felt in Bahrain and parts of eastern Saudi Arabia.

In the UAE, contacts reported water making its way into some corrugators’ factories and warehouses, damaging stocks and in some cases, machinery. Logistics were heavily impacted, and a lot of business was put on hold.

“We were all safe and the factory was safe. But we had to stop production for three days. No one was taking our material, so why would we produce? And there was hardly any truck movement in the first days,” one corrugator representative said.

Demand slides due to Eid Al-Fitr and heavy rains

Most contacts said consumption declined in April compared to March as a result of the Eid Al-Fitr holiday at the end of Ramadan, when many corrugators paused production for a while, and the heavy rains halted a lot of business the following week. One contact said some shipments from Europe, delayed by the Red Sea shipping crisis, had arrived and contributed to filling up certain buyers’ stocks.

Looking ahead, most sources expected a rebound in corrugated box demand with the arrival of summer and its increase in beverage consumption, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the start of the date harvesting season.

Transport still challenging in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, the availability of trucks remains strained and transportation costs are up, sources said. Many shipping companies prefer to use the port in Dammam rather than the one in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast and trucks are then used to move the goods onwards within the country.

Fuel prices have gone up, truck transport prices have gone up, and people are not respecting contracts in logistics.

“Fuel prices have gone up, truck transport prices have gone up, and people are not respecting contracts in logistics,” one contact said.

Several sources said delivering paper from one side of the country to the other could come at a cost of as much as $50-60 per tonne.

However, the Red Sea shipping crisis itself is less talked about. Contacts largely agree that people have gotten used to the situation and freight costs have come down from the peaks in January, though they remain higher than before the crisis began in December.

In April, the Middle East Paper Company (MEPCO) announced that it would invest 1.78 billion Saudi Arabian riyals in a new 450,000 tpy recycled fiber-based containerboard machine at its Jeddah mill, practically doubling its production. The project will start in the third quarter of this year and commissioning is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2027.

PIX indices covering the two main recycled fiber-based containerboard grades, produced in and delivered to the GCC, were launched in June 2023. The GCC countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.