Following Thursday's decision by the world's largest titanium dioxide producer, Chemours (NYSE:CC), to raise the pigment price to $150 per metric ton starting Jan. 1, the fifth-biggest producer, Tronox (NYSE:TROX), followed suit with a similar announcement on Friday that it too will also hike TiO2 prices to $150 per metric ton with the start of 2016.
Does it matter?
Titanium dioxide is the whitest substance on Earth. It's used in everything from sunscreen and toothpaste to food coloring and vehicle coatings. Milk is whitened with it, as is the cream in an Oreo cookie. Paint, in particular, is a heavy user of the pigment, giving it greater opacity, better even than either zinc or lead.
The chemicals industry has been suffering through a multiyear slump, and the price increases, which Chemours said was in response to a strong U.S. dollar and which it estimated would push pricing down another 3% worldwide in the coming year, signals it may not be over.
Chemours was spun off from DuPont earlier this year, and has been struggling to cope with a supply glut and macroeconomic headwinds. In last month's earnings report, it reported it had shut down production at its Edge Moor Delaware facility and shuttered a line at its new Johnsonville, Tennessee, site, reducing titanium dioxide capacity by approximately 150,000 tons.
Tronox similarly reported that titanium dioxide segment revenues fell 11% to $380 million from the year-ago quarter, primarily as a result of lower pigment selling prices.
The pricing action from Chemours and Tronox may cause No. 2 producer Dow Chemical, as well as Kronos Worldwide and Huntsman, to also raise prices.
Although paint makers like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams are heavy users of the pigment, in the past when commodity prices took off they were largely able to pass along the increases to customers and consumers. As they've seemingly benefited regardless of whether the price rose or not, the planned price hikes shouldn't hurt them much going forward.
Chemours, Tronox, and the other chemical companies, however, look like they're in for additional pain, with the pricing action only whitewashing the underlying problem, not curing it.