Titanium may be one of the most underappreciated metals we have. It provides the ping in golf clubs, but titanium has a far more important function: holding airplanes together. So recent demand for aircraft is great news for the titanium industry.
At the Farnborough Airshow near London, Boeing (NYSE: BA ) and EADS subsidiary Airbus have been piling on new orders. At last count, $40 billion worth of airplanes had been ordered. But the biggest winner in all of these deals could be titanium suppliers like Titanium Metals (NYSE: TIE ) and RTI International Metals (NYSE: RTI ) , which get 50% of their demand from the aerospace industry.
News coming from England is positive, but because Boeing and Airbus delayed the 787 and the A380, respectively, demand for titanium hasn't keep up with supply. These next-generation aircraft are so important because they use far more titanium than older aircraft. For example, the older 777 used only 59 tons of titanium, while the new 787 Dreamliner -- Boeing plans to produce 120 a year -- uses 130 tons to 150 tons.
Anticipating more demand, Titanium Metals increased its melted products capacity by 53% from 2007 to 2009. But delay after delay on new planes and an economic slowdown resulted in capacity utilization falling to 47% from 88% during the same time. Once Boeing's and Airbus' new production hits its stride, demand should pick up the slack over the next few years.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As exciting as these numbers sound for the titanium industry, there could be pitfalls. Titanium Metals stock is up 150% over the past year, has a forward P/E of more than 30, and may be running out of room to run. Boeing and Airbus have both cut production from anticipated levels, and we could see more delays that would lead to wasted capacity. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel if the aerospace giants hit their targets, but they've disappointed us before.
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