China titanium producer Pangang shuts unit as coronavirus cases found

BEIJING (Reuters) - One of China’s top titanium producers has halted production at its unit in Chongqing after members of staff were found to be infected with the new coronavirus, a local government official said on Friday.

Pangang Group Vanadium Titanium and Resources, which produces around 220,000 tonnes per year of titanium dioxide - used as white pigment in paints, paper, plastics and textiles - subsequently put the facility in Chongqing’s Banan district under lockdown, the Banan official said.

The municipality of Chongqing in China’s southwest borders the virus epicentre of Hubei province, where the outbreak has so far killed more than 1,300 people.

Local media reported that two cases were confirmed on Pangang’s Chongqing premises, on a Banan industrial park, as it “failed to strictly meet ... virus control and prevention after returning to work,” and potentially exposed 131 people.

The Banan official said she did not “totally agree” with the media report but that further details would be disclosed later on Friday or on Saturday.

An investor relations representative for Pangang, which is headquartered in nearby Chengdu, said she had no information on the matter. It was not immediately clear how much production the Chongqing unit accounted for.

Pangang’s sales to demand centres in eastern China “are likely affected by the transportation lockdowns” aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, one titanium trader said.

The company’s shares nonetheless closed up 9.9% at 2.55 yuan on Friday. UK-based titanium dioxide producer Venator Materials said on Feb. 10 it was raising prices globally for all its pigments, without providing a reason for the hike.

Pangang said on Jan. 14 it expected its 2019 net profit to fall by 53-55% year-on-year to 1.4-1.46 billion yuan ($200-209 million).

Reporting by Min Zhang and Tom Daly; editing by David Evans