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Pieces falling into place for ‘significant growth period’: ITA

Keywords: Tags  Titanium, International Titanium Association, Aerospace, Frank Haflich

As global markets continue to pull out of their recent slump, the head of the International Titanium Association (ITA) maintains that the industry will meet the challenge of rising demand.

ITA president Michael Metz acknowledged that when titanium emerged from a downturn in the past, it often struggled through a period of supply-demand "imbalance" as it strived to supply the requirements of resurgent markets.

This time, as commercial aerospace embarks on what is expected to be an era of prolonged growth as non-aerospace industrial demand also rebounds, the question is: can the industry handle the coming ramp-up? "Yes," Metz said, emphasizing that titanium companies today are "well capitalized and they’ve recognized the opportunities that are out there to grow the business."

During the past three to five years, virtually every major player in the titanium production and supply chain—from sponge plants and downstream into melting and mill product manufacturing—has invested in capacity expansion and modernization, Metz said. The pieces are in place for a "significant growth period."

Last year, as he was about to take the ITA helm, Metz saw the industry pulling out of its slump and described titanium markets as "recovering." Today, he sees that process well on its way.

The aerospace sector is "quite good" and is due to get better, he said, not only because of "upward pressure" on the airliner build rates of aerospace industry leaders Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS, but also with new commercial transport entrants from Bombardier Inc., Montreal, Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. and China.

Meanwhile, industrial markets have "come back nicely" and resumed steady growth, which Metz sees as illustrating titanium’s continuing popularity for these uses. Desalination uses are "very strong," serving the world’s burgeoning requirement for clean water in populated regions.

This improving forecast appeared to be reflected in the weeks leading up to the ITA’s upcoming annual conference and exhibition, where attendance often goes hand-in-hand with industry expectations. From a low of less than 650 delegates at the bottom of the last market decline in 2009, attendance bounced back to nearly 1,000 in 2010 and was on track for a possible record at this year’s Oct. 2-5 meeting in San Diego.

The biggest unknown is probably the nuclear market following the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting damage to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, Metz said.

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