Stone Column

Two straight years of growth in the stone industry

May 1, 2012
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Each May, Stone World publishes the year-end import and export statistics for natural stone from the U.S. Department of Commerce. In an industry that does not record many statistics, these import totals are one of the best barometers of how the U.S. stone industry is doing. Up until 2006 or so, this report was more or less a “celebration” of the unprecedented growth in our industry. Each year during that Golden Era, I would eagerly plug the numbers into my calculator, compare them with the year before, and pronounce, “We grew another 20% (or more) last year, folks! Now go out and buy yourself a CNC. Expand your warehouse. Take more ads in Stone World.”

And then, of course, the second half of the decade came. In 2007, we saw a slight dip, and the decline became more pronounced in the years that followed. We ultimately hit

rock bottom in 2009, when stone imports into the U.S. dropped down to $1.404 billion (less than half of what they were in 2006).

Since that low point, however, the stone industry has gradually been clawing its way back. The figures from 2010 were better than 2009, and last year’s totals continued that climb. A full tally of the 2011 and 2010 stone import/export statistics can be found on pages 24 to 27 of this issue, but here are some highlights:

• The U.S. imported $1.634 billion worth of stone in 2011, a little more than 5% more than 2010’s total, and almost 17% greater than the decade’s low point of $1.404 billion in 2009.

• Perhaps reflecting a rebound in the kitchen countertop market, granite imports rose to a total of $966.3 million in 2011. That is a jump of about 6.8% over 2001, and 33.5% greater than 2009’s total of $723.63. In particular, granite-producing nations such as Brazil and India saw solid growth in their exports to the U.S. in 2011, while China actually saw a slight decline.

• After declining a bit in 2010, marble imports saw growth in 2011. Last year’s total value of $564 million was a rise of 3.9% over the previous year.

• The value of slate hardly changed at all in 2011, declining 0.1% over the previous year and reaching a total of $63.22 million.

• Imports of materials classified as “other”  sandstone, dolomite, porphyry and not otherwise specified — also saw little change, declining 2% to a total of $40.77 million.

 

Looking at how some of the leading granite-producing nations performed in 2011 as compared to 2010, Brazil’s export total rose a solid 10.14% to $407.987 million (more than 54% better than 2009), and India’s total rose 17.7% to $146.037 million (56% better than 2009).

Also of note, the value of granite exported from China to the U.S. actually declined for the second straight year, reaching a total of $189.463 million in 2011. This could indicate that more American consumers are willing to pay for the exotic materials coming from markets such as Brazil, India and Italy.

The largest gains among marble exporters to the U.S. were Turkey (up 8.9% to a total value of $237.277 million) and Spain (up 5.2% to a total value of $24.711 million).

It should be noted that U.S. Customs classifies limestone and travertine products under the general category of “marble,” and those materials are reflected in these figures above. With this in mind, the growth in France’s “marble” exports to the U.S. (which includes French limestone) is also worth mentioning, as they rose 19.6% to reach a total of $9.152 million.

After two straight years of growth, it is clear that our industry is in a growth trend. The question, of course, is how much and how quickly a “full” recovery will come. Stay tuned.

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