Get Fired Up About Tires!

A few years ago, we identified tire shortages as a scourge of the global mining industry. Please forgive me for retreading an old theme.

Fording Canadian Coal (NYSE: FDG  ) was early to sound the alarm, but everyone from rabbit-like Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) to Suncor Energy (NYSE: SU  ) has since felt the impact of wobbly supply.

While rubber prices have bounced higher, the real issue is constrained capacity to fabricate the giant "off the road" (OTR) radial tires needed to trick out these firms' humongous haulers and loaders. Gold giants Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) and Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) have both turned to old fashioned bias-ply tires, which are viewed as less durable and fuel efficient. Barrick has even gone so far as to lend money to a Japanese firm to build more bias-ply capacity.

Industry leaders like Michelin and Goodyear Tire & Rubber (NYSE: GT  ) have added OTR capacity, but not enough to close the gap entirely. Barrick has reported secondary market sales as high as $300,000 for these tires, or around five times their typical price, so you know someone's going to step into the breach.

That someone is Titan International (NYSE: TWI  ) , a longtime specialist in OTR tires. Between the dual mining and agricultural booms, this company finds itself in exactly the right niche today. Last year, Titan decided to expand into biggest-of-the-big 57" and 63" tires, which fit on wheels of that radius. The tires themselves are well over 10 feet high.

Arguably more important than Titan's forthcoming capacity is the firm's claim to a manufacturing method that not only promises to boost tire life by up to 25%, but also costs less to manufacture. Titan has a patent filed for its process, and expects that large, higher-cost manufacturers will turn their attention elsewhere when the OTR supply gap possibly closes next year. That would leave Titan to bask in the glory of many more years of intense demand for its new wares.

Even though Titan has ridden this wave from a sub-$1 share price in 2003 to a roughly billion-dollar market capitalization today, it's still unknown to most investors. Though the firm appears to be well-known to hedge funds and other institutions, it's only received about 50 ratings in Motley Fool CAPS. I, for one, am giving Titan a green thumb.

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