Last year, major ink companies—namely Flint, Huber, and Sun Chemical—came out one by one to announce price hikes on their inks and coatings for North American markets.
These companies and other ink suppliers—including DIC, Sakata, Siegwerk, and T&K Toka—have operations in China, where the domestic printing industry is valued at $160 billion and the annual ink sales exceed $1.5 billion. But now, these ink companies are facing two serious challenges far beyond their control.
The first challenge comes from China’s green movement, which aims to shrink outdated production capacity and eliminate those using substandard coal-fired power generators and boilers. Thousands of factories have been shuttered, and production sputtered as a result. Last year, a three-year Blue Skies initiative was launched to further curb air pollution. Tighter legislations on emissions, waste disposal, and cleaner energy usage are affecting not just pulp-and-paper mills and printing factories but also raw materials manufacturers.
So, up went pulp and paper prices, and short was the supply of raw materials—specifically, photoinitiators, oligomers, and monomers—that are required for making energy-curing printing inks and coatings.
The second challenge started in Washington with tariff talks, threats, and tweets. The ensuing U.S.-China trade war escalated fast with tit-for-tat measures that recently saw the latest round of tariffs imposed on almost all goods manufactured in China.
For U.S. publishers considering pulling print orders from China and going back onshore to avoid the tariffs, the current picture is not ideal. Closures of major printers—Edwards Brothers Malloy and Thomson-Shore come to mind—have destabilized the supply chain, while U.S. and Canada mills closures and production cuts have reduced the tonnage of printing and writing stocks available in the market. And now, printing inks are becoming more expensive.
On the positive side, the devalued Chinese yuan, now at its 11-year low against the U.S. dollar, will reduce the tariff impact on China-made products. The devaluation is making Chinese exports more competitive and cheaper while turning U.S. imports more costly, which will then force Chinese companies to look for alternatives or make/build their own. For China, it seems like a good deal in the long run. For the White House, this is probably going to merit more tweets (and threats, and tantrums, oh my). For these ink companies, only time will tell.