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TIRING

Things made of rubber are getting more expensive because of Covid-19

A worker inspects newly-made gloves at Top Glove factory in Shah Alam, Malaysia
REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
Glove sales have helped the rubber industry bounce back.
  • Karen Ho
By Karen Ho

Global finance and economics reporter

Rubber prices are bouncing upwards. Higher rubber demand due to the need for rubber gloves worldwide and rising car sales during the Covid-19 pandemic is driving up prices.

For instance, out of the 52 trade categories for rubber products and materials that the US imported at least $3 million of in the third quarter, only 15 were cheaper than a year prior, according to data from the US Census Bureau.

Higher rubber prices are already here

After sinking to a low in April, the price of natural rubber blocks and smoked sheets spiked to multi-month highs on the futures market in Singapore. The material is used to manufacture items like tires, hoses, and footwear.

While prices have fallen since then, demand for rubber gloves and tires is set to continue for the rest of the year due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases and anticipated e-commerce sales through the pandemic.

The demand for rubber gloves 

US Census data show the number of surgical rubber gloves imported into the US rose 57% to 244 million pairs in the third quarter. Imports of all rubber gloves rose 28% to 14.6 billion pairs in the same period.

New cars and trucks mean new tires

The early stages of the pandemic halted production and transportation of goods across many parts of China. Now, many of the country’s factories are back to peak capacity levels as they deal with backlogs in domestic and international orders including new sales for coronavirus-related items.

Demand for cars in China is high. The country has the world’s largest auto market, and a growing population of middle class consumers. Sales, manufacturing, and exports of vehicles are all up for the year, according to October data from the Chinese Association of Automobile Manufacturers. That included large increases for trucks and semi-trailers that can move goods around. Those can can require as many as 18 tires. Domestic sales have also been boosted by the country’s closed borders.

Concerns about the safety of public transportation during the pandemic have also helped increase sales in some parts of the US.

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