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The more time that passes, the more 2023 is confirmed as an average year. Activity levels were unsatisfactory this summer and collections were not at all good, for recyclers or for paper makers. The lower grades market remained calm until mid-August before rising in September and again in October owing to low collection volumes (stocks are falling slowly but steadily among recyclers) and to a slight increase in sales to Asia. Given that activity levels among paper makers in Europe are not dreadful, it did not take much to create a small imbalance when considering the limited volumes available to be offered. The trigger was Asian buyers looking for volumes in Europe.

On the other side of the Atlantic, indeed, the situation changed some time ago. Low collection volumes, no stocks and new capacities starting up locally have meant rising export prices for cardboard, helped by very low logistics costs for shipments in containers. This prompted a slight return of Asian demand in Europe, assisted by logistics costs reverting to historical low levels and to a more conducive Euro/US dollar comparison.

The situation remains paradoxical and tense. The recovered paper and board market is rising in Europe but European customers have few orders, high reel stocks and regularly falling prices, with several machine shutdowns announced for the end of the year. Therefore, the loading of containers will continue given that local customers will not have much need over the remainder of 2023.

As regards the medium grades, conditions are not very bright as customers do not have enough orders and are under pressure on finished product prices.

The graphics market is not thriving, with deliveries decreasing inexorably year after year. The German market, which was so important and demanding until the summer of 2022, is now totally absent. Prices for these grades are low and are not being helped by the lack of overseas trading at the right levels.

The same situation applies to office papers for which demand is low and prices steadily falling. Light may be seen at the end of the tunnel for some papers in October; exports are returning slightly at rising prices and, if this trend continues, it could help put some pressure back on the European market.

Nothing has changed among the high grades. The price of pulp remains low and recyclers’ customers have few needs. The market is not strong and there are difficulties on occasions in selling some grades. In what is a complicated and uncertain situation, recyclers are lacking volumes and there is no market pull on customers.

As already known, activity levels will be reduced among paper makers at the end of the year as stocks of finished products are very high and sufficient to meet weak market demand. Activity levels among recyclers are not expected to be very good either although the presence of Asian buyers will make a difference if sustained.