By David Savastano, Editor
The past year was a challenging one for pigment manufacturers. Demand for pigments generally declined due to the recession, and customers also looked to cut inventories. As a result, the market shrank, leading to more competition.
Still, there were some bright signs as well. The economy did seem to recover a bit near the end of 2009, and segments such as packaging were nearly recession-proof.
“BASF’s pigments business performance was on par with the key market indicators within the printing and packaging markets during 2009 – which means, of course, like everyone else, we felt the recession,” said John Schmidt, communications manager, BASF Corporation. “The publication sector, which already suffered before the crisis, was especially hit hard. The effect was tempered by the steadiness of certain segments, such as flexible packaging and labels, particularly in the food and beverage markets.”
“After a very slow first quarter, the balance of 2009 picked up nicely and finished close to expectations,” said Don McBride, COO of Heucotech Ltd., a Heubach Company. “Although the automotive segment of the pigment business was well behind the previous two years, there was an increase in momentum during the second half of 2009. Our sales of pigments and preparations to the ink industry were on pace with previous years.”
“There continue to be strong positive trends toward the usage of high performance and effects pigments, but overall, 2009 was a challenging year for the pigments market worldwide and had comparable results to the end of 2008 when the economic downturn officially began,” Mehran Yazdani, vice president, marketing, Performance Pigments, Sun Chemical, said.
“While most raw material suppliers for ink saw a significant drop in sales for 2009, Trust Chem USA saw a steady growth in our first year,” said Rick Campbell, president of Trust Chem USA.
“In general, the customers in our markets went through a general de-stocking from October 2008 through March 2009,” said Darren Bianchi, president of Brilliant Group, Inc. “Things picked up considerably in April and remained strong through the rest of the year. Despite the overall slowdown, Brilliant experienced solid growth in 2009.”
Thomas Ashe, vice president, MC Technology, Inc., said that MC Technology made progress in 2009 despite the fragile economy.
“Cost cutting programs that were implemented early in the year helped the company through some decline in sales,” Mr. Ashe noted. “The pigment industry continues to see more imported pigments and these pigment companies and traders are chasing a smaller market. This puts a lot of pressure on margins in the industry.”
Martin John, vice president, global marketing and sales printing business for Clariant, said that the past year certainly was a very challenging year for any company in the pigment industry. “Clariant responded quickly to the challenging environment with decisive restructuring and a continued strong focus on our customers and their needs which lead to an overall performance we can be satisfied with,” Mr. John added.
Frank Lavieri, executive vice president and general manager for Lansco Colors, said that 2009 was a challenging year for the pigment industry because of volume declines in the litho ink, construction and automotive industries in particular. “Lansco Colors had a very good year driven by new business from our successful customers,” he added.
“We were able to grow our market share in 2009 despite the difficult climate,” said Phillip Myles, operations director for Union Colours. “It was evident that some of our established clients were consuming at a slower rate than 2008. In particular, it has been a difficult year for our ink clients, which must have reflected adversely on both traditional pigment producers and those who trade from Asia.”
Craig Reid, global head of marketing and business development, graphic arts, for ECKART GmbH, said that 2009 was an obvious challenge for the industry, and metallic pigments were no exception.
“However, due to market driven demand for cost effective alternative to foil stamping and metalized substrates, ECKART took the opportunity to further innovate in developing the next generation of metallic pigments in aluminum and bronze,” Mr. Reid said. “The creation of this technologically advanced metallic pigment has quickly found its way into added value metallic printing formulations effectively setting a new bar for metallic brilliance.”
The Impact of The Recession
For pigment manufacturers, the global recession had many different aspects. Inventories shrank, and companies emphasized increasing efficiency in their operations.
“We saw aggressive activity in the marketplace with many organizations attempting to regain lost business in order to maintain a minimum production efficiency,” Mr. McBride said. “Both pigment and ink companies took measures to reduce costs to enable them to operate at lower levels of business. Inventories of basic raw materials, intermediates as well as finished goods, are at much lower levels than in recent years, and this presents challenges for all in the supply chain.”
“The recession only exacerbated much of what was already occurring in the pigment and ink industries (i.e. consolidation, workforce reductions, etc.),” Mr. Bianchi said. “Some suppliers cut inventories as a way to conserve cash, resulting in some shortages in the market. However, many companies took advantage of the slow period to focus on internal issues such as increased product development, streamlining of work flow and other improvements to business processes.”
“On the one hand, cost savings, consolidation and inventory management were trends which will clearly continue in the future,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Emphasis was also placed on efficiency gains via internal process development and optimization projects. On the other hand, ink manufacturers looked into diversifying their product portfolios and expanding into markets in which they did not previously participate.”
Mr. Ashe said the recession had a significant impact on the pigment and ink industries. “Sales continue to decline from housing to beer,” Mr. Ashe said. “Every industry’s sales decline can result in less pigment and ink being needed.”
“There’s no doubt that sales were impacted in the 2009 downturn,” Mr. Reid said.
“Surprisingly enough, the strong brands in the market continued to create the latest eye-catching design for their packaging. In some cases this benefited the use of metallic pigment. However, the recession also drove businesses to find cost reduction opportunities. Advertising and publication inks due to the e-media were significantly impacted as a result.”
“The ink industry has been affected by both a slow economy and reduced ink sales related to increased use of the internet to replace newspaper and magazines,” Mr. Campbell said.
“The recession has caused some pigment companies to exit the business, and may cause others to exit in 2010 as well,” Mr. Lavieri said. “The list of former pigment suppliers is growing longer as the business has gotten more competitive over the last decade as new business models have won out over old.”
Mr. Myles said that traditional and Asian pigment producers have both been consolidating as Asian pigment producers continue to focus on possibly unsustainably low prices for the low-end product sectors “Meanwhile, western ink producers continue to focus on value by way of combining product performance with price,” Mr. Myles said.
James Bee, president of Aarbor International, noted that Aarbor re-entered the dry organic pigment market for the U.S. in November 2008.
“Our first year back in this market has been exciting and prosperously challenging,” Mr. Bee said. “We feel that our product line is much stronger than what we offered eight years ago as we have added joint ventures, with oversea factories in addition to our own manufacturing sites. Due to our re-entry to the market, we were able to quickly adjust to current market conditions. However, we did see that the market was slower in the beginning of 2009.”
Raw Material Costs And Supply Issues
As if the recession was not challenging enough for pigment manufacturers, raw material costs and supply remain a major concern.
Mr. Yazdani said that a number of trends and challenges are affecting the pricing and supply issues in the pigments market, beginning with the rapid escalation of raw material costs followed by the recession and subsequent decrease in demand.
“First, the price of raw materials increased at an unprecedented rapid pace in 2008,” Mr. Yazdani said. “It was then followed by a rapid decline in demand starting in the fourth quarter of 2008. While some of the pressures have eased since then, true year-to-year improvement will not be achieved until all of these inventory effects completely work their way through the supply chain. It will take some time to recoup the magnitude of the increases that pigment suppliers absorbed in 2008 and we are now starting to see the price of raw materials go up again.”
Mr. McBride pointed to continued considerable upward pressure on copper and phthallic anhydride for phthalocyanine blues and greens. “The restoration of the U.S. tariff rate of 6.5 percent on Pigment Green 7 in 2010 also adds to the mix,” Mr. McBride noted.
“Costs of raw materials, energy and transportation are being closely monitored,” Mr. John said. “For example, phthalo blue pigments and rubines are expected to be under continued pressure. Generally, pigment suppliers will face the need to respond by corresponding pricing measures.”
“Raw materials are definitely higher due to increased oil prices; fortunately, the China dollar has been stable for the last eight months and our hope is that this does not fluctuate in the near future,” Mr. Bee said.
“Raw material costs are traditionally an issue and BASF is continuously looking at our processes to improve upon our existing technologies and bring a better value to the customer,” Mr. Schmidt said.
“Raw materials continue to increase,” Mr. Ashe said. “Resins have gone up several times in the last 12 months. Supply has kept pigment prices from any significant increases but costs have gone up and pigment prices will have to increase in 2010.”
Metallics have their own challenges.
A sudden increase in demand may also lead to challenges.
“New or sudden increases in business may lead to delays based on the entire supply chain’s reaction to the downturn in the overall business level as lower inventories are kept to free up working capital,” Mr. McBride noted.
“Demand is now fluctuating more than ever,” Mr. Reid said. “Because of the economic crisis and destocking efforts (customers reducing inventory) a new challenge has arisen in meeting customers delivery expectations. Customers are ordering more frequently, often with shorter lead times. ECKART is committed to meeting the changing needs of the industry and is actively working to make the necessary improvements.”
“Late last year, there were some short term supply issues when a large number of customers had depleted their inventories and all started to rebuild at the same time,” Mr. Schmidt said. “We dealt with it in a timely manner.”
“Many of the raw material suppliers to the pigment industry also reduced their inventories, and temporary supply interruptions will most likely be a topic for this year,” Mr. John reported. “Stringent cash management across the pigment industry might further pronounce this situation. It is therefore one of the top priorities for Clariant to manage supply reliability carefully throughout this year.”
“We have definitely seen that our new customer base has experienced supply issues for just-in-time (JIT) orders from other suppliers due to structural changes within the industry,” Mr. Bee noted. “The demand and increase of our product line this past year has been exceptionally strong and we expect to continue to fill in the gap in the year 2010.”
Mr. Yazdani said that demand in the emerging markets is still closely tied to exports to Europe and North America.
“The financial crisis is a global one and their growth will be severely impacted by the lower demand in the developed world,” Mr. Yazdani said. “In China, tighter environmental controls and less available credit, on top of lower demand, will most likely make pigment producers there both less competitive and fewer in number. As a consequence, we are exploring potential opportunities to better utilize our North America and European pigment manufacturing operations.”
Environmental issues in China are leading to both higher prices and supply shortages, as the Chinese government is shutting down some pigment and intermediate producers.
Mr. Myles noted that most pigment intermediates are produced in China, so disruptions to the Chinese supply chain can influence color chains worldwide.
“The Chinese government is determined to reduce effluents and are taking hard decisions which include forced plant closures,” Mr. Myles said. “Today’s sustainable Chinese producer has invested in adequate effluent treatment, but the cost of these investments have to be realized, which is starting to put upward pressure on prices.
“China’s government will reduce the number of pigment and pigment intermediate producers over the next two years with the aim to control effluent, and much of the western production facilities for the same are closed or reduced by capacity,” Mr. Myles said. “We see clients putting greater dependence on fewer but established Chinese producers. As a Chinese producer, we took a the big decision to invest in high technology effluent treatment facilities, which is a big commitment when a large percentage of our products can be considered commodity in nature, but it’s clear now this plan was correct as our clients can consider us a sustainable supplier.”
“China is the largest supplier of azo pigment and of most azo intermediates as well,” Mr. Campbell said. “Inflation and improvements in the quality of life in China have increased the cost of environmental protection, labor and energy. Petrochemical cost increases also affect the cost of pigment. Recently raw material cost increases have caused the price of many red pigments to rise.
“Currently there are few supply issues,” Mr. Campbell added. “However from time to time, key intermediate factories have been closed temporarily as they improve their environmental protection capabilities.”
A. Nurhan Becidyan, president United Mineral & Chemical Corporation, said that ultimately there have been fundamental changes in the classical organic pigment market in North America, as demand has slowed and production has typically moved to Asia.
“Over the past 10 years, we have seen a slow but unmistakable decline in the use of classical organic pigments in North American market,” Mr. Becidyan said. “The changes in the printing ink industry (primarily media-related printing), the downturn in the construction industry (coating-related pigments) and the shrinking of the plastics industry (moving offshore) have all contributed to this downturn in usage.
Mr. Becidyan said that this history is all important to understand the trends that are taking place today.
“With the worldwide economic downturn in 2008 and early 2009, prices and usage of pigments became so competitive that prices dropped on a weekly basis until mid-2009,” Mr. Becidyan noted. “During this bloodbath period, many producers in Asia went out of business, never to return. The producers of raw materials used to manufacture pigments also went out of business during this time at a record rate.
“Simultaneously, the Chinese government decided that they would no longer support with monetary rebates industry in China that was polluting the environment and producing product that was primarily being exported.
“The final mitigating factor in the mid-2009 change in trends for 2010 was the fact that the economy in China recovered from its recession much quicker than any of the western world economies. Making sure whatever raw materials and finished product are needed domestically is given preference over what is used for export production, while in the west (U.S. and Europe), we are just now gaining momentum.
“We have already seen the pricing of pigments start its climb,” Mr. Becidyan concluded. “It is understandable. China has decided that its raw materials, used in the production of reds (Bon Acid, Beta Napthol, etc) and yellows (AAA, OT, etc.) are no longer available at wholesale prices. This has caused the price of classical organic pigments to begin to climb. These raw material price increases, coupled with the shrinking supply situation explained above, are the perfect storm for a rapid upward trend in prices, even though the market demand is still not as strong as once was. When pigment prices rise, it is not usually just a few percentage points. Ten to 20 percent increases in prices would not be unheard of. It should be noted that greens and blues may not be affected as quickly as most of the production of these are in India where raw materials are still plentiful, and there still is a glut of material manufactured.”
Expectations for 2010 and Beyond
Considering all that has occurred in the colorants market, pigment manufacturers are relatively optimistic heading into 2010.
Mr. Campbell said that Trust Chem worldwide expects to steadily grow its business in 2010. “Trust Chem USA is optimistic about the upcoming year and is expecting significant sales growth as our customers recognize the value, quality and service we offer with our pigments,” Mr. Campbell said.
“Business has strengthened and we are expecting solid growth for 2010,” Mr. Lavieri noted.
“It is expected that some instability will continue through most of the year,” Mr. Reid said. “Some market areas will grow while others will strive to recreate themselves. We will place our resources in the appropriate areas that make us the most effective to grow.”
Mr. Yazdani anticipates growth in the emerging nations, and sees a strong future for high performance pigments in non-impact printing.
“From a geographical viewpoint, the emerging industrial giants, China, India and Eastern Europe, continue to be seen as the markets where per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to grow most rapidly,” Mr. Yazdani said. “Related to the GDP growth of these emerging markets will be the growth in the demand for high performance pigments for the coatings of durable goods, buildings and the automotive sector. In the graphic arts market, the increasing use of non-impact printing methods such as inkjet means increased demand for high performance pigments at the expense of those conventional pigments used in traditional printing inks.
“From the market segment viewpoint, we expect continue growth in cosmetics, specialties and niche markets,” Mr. Yazdani added. “We also expect a flat market in automotive, architectural and ink markets. The trend for more efficient cars in the automotive market will continue to see a reduction in paint consumption; however, it will also increase the demand for color. This trend will help to fuel the continued growth in high performance and effect pigments.”
Ultimately, Mr. Yazdani said that Sun Chemical will keep investing in its pigment business in order to provide value.
Mr. John sees stronger growth opportunities in Asia and Latin America, as well as in digital technologies.
“We expect overall sustainable demand with moderate growth in North America and Europe and stronger demand in Asia and Latin America,” Mr. John said. “Consumer awareness in the area of product safety will gain more relevance also for pigment suppliers. Digital printing will continue to grow at a stronger pace than traditional printing technologies.”
With BASF’s acquisition of Ciba Speciality Chemicals, Mr. Schmidt noted that BASF now has a broader portfolio of products.
“For 2010, we expect to see continued growth from the benefits of the expanded pigment and effects portfolio,” Mr. Schmidt said. “With the expanded resources in the North American market and the new technical facility, we expect to see continued growth in targeted customer solutions.”
Mr. Bianchi stressed the importance of innovation.
“We expect slow improvement in the economy overall over the next five years,” Mr. Bianchi said. “The combination of realistic home values and tighter lending – the opposite of which drove much of our nation’s growth from the mid 1990s – in our view, will result in growth rates far below that which we have grown accustomed to. As a result, we need to remain innovative and continually develop new products to meet the needs of our customers so as to grow in a relatively stagnant environment.”
“MC Technology is guardedly optimistic for 2010,” Mr. Ashe concluded. “The people here are committed to taking care of our customers and helping them grow their business. We all know it will not be easy, but we are looking forward to the journey.”
The following listing includes new pigment products introduced to the ink industry last year.