Lawsuit filed against US TiO2 producers for alleged price fixing

12 February 2010 19:04  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--DuPont and Huntsman declined to comment on Friday regarding an antitrust suit filed by a Pennsylvania paint producer, alleging that they and other companies conspired to fix the US price of titanium dioxide (TiO2) beginning in 2002 and extending until the present.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in the Maryland US district court by Haley Paint, names DuPont, Huntsman, Kronos, Cristal and Millenium Inorganic Chemicals, which is owned by Cristal.

DuPont and Kronos did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while Huntsman said that as a matter of policy it does not comment on pending litigation.

The complaint alleges that the named companies, which own and manage all North American TiO2 capacity and about 70% of global capacity, combined to fix, raise, maintain and stabilise the TiO2 selling price.

In particular, Haley Paint focused on three TiO2 price hikes between May and September 2008, which it said came despite declining demand and lower raw material costs.

Furthermore, the suit referenced the “cartelised nature” of the TiO2 industry, alleging a course of anticompetitive conduct including agreements and understandings to increase prices, as well as to maintain and effectively allocate customers and market shares.

This was done by either refusing to bid or intentionally bidding high for the business of customers being served by other defendants, so as not to take business from a competitor and risk retaliation, the suit said.

Moreover, the lawsuit alleged that secret discussions and agreements were made between the listed companies concerning capacity, costs and raw materials, and the exchange of commercially-sensitive information.

Those discussions served to artificially reduce, and in some cases eliminate, competition in the US, violating the Sherman Act, Haley said.

The lawsuit also named Lyondell Chemical and Tronox as co-conspirators, adding that they could be named as defendants at a later date. Both are currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Because of the antitrust violations, Haley said it paid more for TiO2 than it would have otherwise. As such, the company said it was seeking to recover damages to both its business and property.

The specific amount would be determined at trial, Haley said.

Last month, Huntsman, Cristal, Kronos, DuPont and Tronox all announced plans to raise TiO2 prices by 6 cents/lb for January.

For more on TiO2 visit ICIS chemical intelligence
For more on DuPont and Huntsman visit ICIS company intelligence
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By: Ben DuBose
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