By Vincent Valk
As seen in IHS Chemical Week, March 2, 2015
Producers and analysts expect the global paints and coatings market to grow steadily in 2015 after a solid 2014. "Our overall outlook for 2015 is similar to what [was] experienced last year," says Michael McGarry, president and COO at PPG Industries. "We anticipate growth rates will remain mixed by region, with North American and Asian economies continuing to grow at rates generally consistent with 2014."
Global growth in paints and coatings consumption is forecast to average 6%/ year through 2018, with growth generally higher in the emerging world, according to IHS Chemical. Growth is expected to exceed that figure in value terms as the production of "relatively higher-valued coatings" increases more than the overall market, IHS Chemical adds.
Outlook: Cheap oil and construction are tailwinds
Steady improvement in the North American construction sector will be a key growth driver for many coatings producers and their suppliers in the coming year. "North America is solid and will continue to grow," says Frank Sullivan, chairman and CEO of RPM International. The recovery from the sharp downturn in construction in 2008-09 has been slow and steady, and producers expect that trend to continue. US housing starts should total 1.18 million in 2015, up 18% from 2014, IHS says.
Commercial construction, always a laggard, faces a mixed outlook. Producers are mixed on whether they expect a boost from the commercial construction market. IHS expects nonresidential construction in the US to contract by 5.1% this year because of a sharp fall in investment in mining and petroleum structures. Other forms of nonresidential construction are expected to grow but at a muted pace.
Outside the United States, Europe remains a weak spot. "Our base case assumption is that European growth will remain subdued," McGarry says. However, some bright spots for Europe include a weaker euro, lower energy prices, and the potentially stimulating impact of the current round of quantitative easing, he adds. RPM saw "a real stall" in Germany for the first time since the recession in 2014, Sullivan says. Geopolitical issues, especially in Ukraine and Greece, can create uncertainty in parts of Europe, he adds.
Emerging markets remain a key source of growth despite some areas slackening. "We are continuing to see good demand in key segments in China and in Asia generally," says Pat Gottschalk, president/coating materials at Dow Chemical. "It's not as broad-based as it may have been in the past, but the more high-quality segments are continuing to grow rapidly." Chinese consumers are evincing a taste for more sophisticated coatings with antibacterial attributes or formulations that can improve indoor air quality. "In China, there is going to be a slowdown in housing starts and commercial builds, but we still see a strong uplift for higher quality paint," says Mark Henning, president and CEO of Angus Chemical (Hoffman Estates, IL). Angus is Dow's former nitroalkanes business and a major ingredients supplier to the coatings industry. As the Chinese economy shifts to a more consumer-driven market, the importance of quality will become more pronounced. "Even in a slower-growth economy, we are seeing the consumer-driven portion becoming much larger," Henning says.
Indeed, low oil prices are widely seen as a driver for growth in coatings demand. "Our view is [cheap oil] should be good for the architectural coatings space," Gottschalk says.
The main benefit of cheap oil is increased consumer discretionary income across the world, especially in energy-intensive developed economies, coatings makers say. Consumers will have extra money to spend on home improvement projects such as repainting rooms, and on durable goods and appliances, which are also major users of coatings. Cheaper oil also can boost miles driven in automobiles, historically a key component of demand for automotive refinish coatings.
On the other side of the coin, prices for commodity-like raw materials should decline because of cheaper oil. "Any of the key categories derived from oil and gas – monomers, solvents, resins – can be cheaper," Sullivan says. However, coating ingredients that are further removed from oil and gas, such as additives, are unlikely to decline in price much, if at all. Further, as cheap oil increases consumer discretionary income, it should increase the demand for coatings-meaning that prices for some ingredients are likely to rise. "For those materials that are more specialty … if there is a supply-demand imbalance, when demand goes up prices will firm," Henning says. Paint companies are expecting downward pressure on prices for commodity ingredients, but prices for other ingredients may increase, he adds.
Cheap oil does have a downside for industrial coatings manufacturers. Oil and gas producers are cutting back on capital and maintenance spending, Sullivan says. "Oil and gas is a big driver for industrial coatings, and they are slashing spending aggressively," he adds. The downsides are fairly clear, however. "Those are specific segments that have high exposure to oil and gas, and everyone can see that," Gottschalk says.
Meanwhile, prices for titanium dioxide (TiO2) are expected to remain stable this year. "Our view of the TiO2 market hasn't changed," McGarry says. "We continue to believe it is oversupplied." New capacity is coming onstream even as paint makers search for ways to reduce their TiO2 consumption and optimize its use in their formulations. "There hasn't been much concern" recently on TiO2 prices, says Eric Linak, senior consultant with IHS Chemical.
Technology: More functions in the can
Despite the recent price stability, and even oversupply, in the TiO2 market, paint makers continue to try to use less of the material in formulations. "When you look at the industry in general, we still plan to take TiO2 out of our formulations, which is consistent with what our industry peers are doing," McGarry says.
Makers of coatings additives, such as Angus, view this trend as an opportunity. "The industry has been pushing to maximize the utility of TiO2 in paint," says David Green, v.p./R&D at Angus. Improving and maximizing dispersion properties are key components of that, he adds. "This is exciting for an additive company like Angus," Green says.
This trend looks set to continue even in light of TiO2 prices' recent stability. "Even with stable pricing, paint makers know how volatile that market can be," Henning says. Recent consolidation among TiO2 producers, with big producers, such as Huntsman and Cristal, acquiring larger shares of the market, also means that paint makers are keen to cut their reliance on TiO2 regardless of current prices.
Ingredient efficiency overall is an important driver of paint reformulations and new product development. Paint makers are interested in cutting costs and boosting performance by optimizing their use of TiO2, resins and other components, industry executives say. "Anything you can do to optimize ingredients, [paint makers] will always be interested," Henning says.
Enhancing the functionality of low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints is also a big driver of R&D. "In order to get to low and no VOC, producers had to make significant changes to raw materials in the paint," Green says. "We see that as an opportunity to ... work with paint companies to reformulate the new low- or no-VOC paints to a higher standard of performance."
Low VOC is now the price of admission for ingredients manufacturers. "We are seeing a shift to a product performance focus from low VOC," Gottschalk says. "Low VOC was a breakthrough some time ago, but now it's required for a seat at the table."
The bigger selling point is functionality–which can encompass anything from hiding and durability to health and safety properties. "People want coatings to do more," Gottschalk says. Architectural paint and primer in one is an example of a new functionality that has attracted broad interest. Others include antibacterial coatings, or coatings that can take formaldehyde–often found in furniture–out of the air, according to Gottschalk.
Sometimes, reformulation and enhanced functionalities are directly related to the properties of low-VOC paint. "A general trend in low-VOC is that the film isn't as hard and it plasticizes more, so you get more blocking," Henning says. Other issues in architectural paint are getting the flow level right so that brush marks do not appear on walls as well as dry times, since low-VOC paints tend to dry faster, according to Green. Solving all these issues—while maintaining low VOC content—will continue to be key research drivers.
More stringent VOC regulations are, of course, here to stay—and in many circumstances, they are getting tougher. In the United States, the Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) in the northeast and southern California's South Coast Air Quality Management District (Scaqmd) are proposing VOC limits for architectural coatings tougher than current federal standards. States around the Great Lakes are considering rules similar to the OTC rules, as is the federal EPA, although none of these rules has been finalized. Scaqmd's proposed standards are the strictest, although the OTC rules are likely to be the basis for any new EPA standards.
Additionally, the EPA is required to revisit the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (Naaqs) for ground-level ozone later this year. VOC limits are based on the ground-level ozone rules. [The] EPA is reportedly considering lowering NAAQS for ground-level ozone to 65-70 parts per billion from a current standard of 75 ppb. "If the standard is lowered, it is likely that the number of states and local areas in nonattainment [of the standard] will increase, leading to new VOC regulations across the country," Linak says.
However, most paint manufacturers look to the most stringent rules—currently the Scaqmd standards—when formulating their products. "Most manufacturers just sell limited stock that meet the most stringent regulations to keep inventories and product proliferation down," Linak says.
Outside the United States, Latin American countries are considering developing VOC standards, according to Linak. In Europe and China, which have VOC standards, "there is a focus on the development of emission standards, which regulate the quality of indoor air and the impact on human health," Linak adds. These standards focus on emissions of organic compounds from dry paint films since some compounds, such as formaldehyde, may be slowly emitted, as opposed to VOC standards, which focus on containers of liquid paint, he says.
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