The Yin and Yen of Toray

07/30/2010 3:32 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Thursday night’s bad economic news out of Japan means Toray Industries (OTC: TRYIY) goes on our watch list.

As a Japanese company, Toray moves with Japan’s stock market. But much of its business and most of its growth are from outside Japan. (For more on the bad economic news out of Japan, see this post.)

Toray Industries was founded in 1926 as Japan’s first maker of synthetic textiles. Today, the company is still weaving and knitting exotic textiles—including for two of the global growth stories of the next decade,

First, reverse osmosis membranes for water desalination. Global installed desalination capacity will grow at a compound annual growth rate of better than 9%, according to projections from Pike Research. Total desalination sales will approach $90 billion n 2010 through 2016, Pike Research forecasts.

Although the desalination industry as a whole remains strikingly unconcentrated—with the top five suppliers together controlling only 25% of the market—the market for reverse osmosis membranes is strikingly concentrated. The top companies, Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW), Nitto Denko (OTC: NDEKY), and Toray Industries, control 65% of the market.

Second, carbon fiber in cars. The use of carbon fiber, stronger and 50% lighter than steel, in aircraft has been growing as airplane manufacturers such as Boeing (NYSE: BA) strive to increase the fuel efficiency of their planes by making them lighter. Toray won a 15-year contract to supply Airbus with carbon fiber in May.

The big prize, though, is carbon fiber in cars—and there, the rate of adoption has been slower than expected. That looks like it’s about to change, though, as carmakers face intensifying pressure to make their products more fuel-efficient without sacrificing safety.

But maybe the biggest market is the one resulting from the need of manufacturers of hybrid and electric cars to offset the added weight of batteries.

Bayerische Motoren Werke (OTC: BAMXF), or BMW, for example, will use a carbon fiber safety cell to protect passengers in its new electric cars. That will offset as much as 772 pounds of weight added by the car’s battery and other electronic components. SGL Carbon (OTC: SGLFF) will supply the carbon fiber from a new factory the company is building near Seattle with BMW.

BMW competitor Daimler plans to introduce carbon fiber in its Mercedes-Benz line by 2013. The company signed a development agreement with Toray Industries in April.

Toray’s ADRs (American Depositary Receipts) trade near the low end of the stock’s 52-week range from $48 to $61. (It changed hands near $52.50 Friday afternoon.) The ADR plunged from near $60 to near $50 in May on news that the company would sell 230 million shares to raise $1.2 billion to repay debt and for capital investments.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of Toray Industries in my personal or professional accounts.

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