What happened

Chemical specialist Valhi (NYSE:VHI) plunged 43% last month compared to a 1.8% uptick in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The drop still left shareholders in positive territory for 2019, although gains are closer to 18% than the over-100% Valhi had notched through early March.

A warehouse filled with green barrels of chemicals.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Valhi's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings results illustrated the risks associated with a business that's exposed to volatile chemical prices. Titanium dioxide prices slumped 22% in the period, management said on March 11, and that shift played a key role in overall net sales shrinking to $389 million compared to $496 million in the prior year. Profits in the chemical division plunged to $48 million from $124 million.

Now what

Valhi's broader fiscal year was solid, with sales and net income holding about even with 2017. But the business is susceptible to several major risk factors, including the price and availability of ore and the volume of competing chemical products from China. These exposures should ensure more volatility ahead for shareholders, even if titanium prices stabilize over the next few quarters.

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