A look at the Spanish natural stone industry

September 2, 2008
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According to a report issued at the Piedra 2008 trade fair in Madrid, Spain, there are more than 1,000 companies devoted to working with marble, granite and slate in Spain, along with almost 700 quarries for these materials.

Among the presentations at Piedra 2008, the international trade fair that took place in Madrid, Spain, an overview of the Spanish natural stone industry was offered by the Market Observatory for Natural Stone. This report, and others presented at Piedra 2008, detailed the size and activities of the Spanish stone sector on an international level. “Today, the Spanish natural stone industry, which is basically founded on the extraction of natural stone and its transformation and elaboration, has become a point of reference within the world stone industry as a whole,” stated the report. “The quantity of stone produced and, above all, the quality of Spain’s products, make this country one of the world leaders within this field, based on a production value that comes to 3.5 billion Euros [U.S. $5.5 billion].” According to the report, Spain has more than 1,000 companies devoted to working with marble, granite and slate, and almost 700 quarries for these materials. The majority of these companies are small- and medium-sized enterprises, which constitute a good part of the industrial fabric in Spain. The companies operating within the stone industry provide 35,000 direct jobs and almost 100,000 indirect jobs. The report also pointed to the “considerable geological wealth of the Iberian Peninsula,” which has spurred rapid stone industry growth - particularly with regard to exports.

“Spain is one of the leading exporters of natural stone,” the report stated. “The main destinations for its exports include the U.S., Mexico, Germany, England, France, the U.K. and Ireland, among other countries.” The challenges facing the Spanish stone industry are similar to the issues in other stone-producing nations. “One of the main problems the industry currently faces is strong competition presented by countries such as China, India, Egypt and Turkey on the international markets,” the report stated. “The internationalization of the economy has reached every sector, and the natural stone industry is no exception. As a result of this process, all countries have now gained access to the technology that enables them to exploit a series of natural resources that the majority of countries throughout the world undoubtedly possess.” The report also cited the construction slowdown as an area of concern. “In general terms, there is little doubt that the current economic situation has affected the industry’s prospects,” the report stated. “In this respect, and especially in the case of a sector that is so closely connected to the field of construction, the natural stone industry will have to remain alert and double its efforts to emerge victorious from the current worldwide slump.”

For 2007, Spanish exports of natural stone exceeded 1.0245 billion Euros (U.S. $1.6081 billion), an increase of 6.8% over the year before.

Foreign trade figures

Another report at Piedra 2008 addressed Spain’s stone imports and exports. “The Spanish natural stone industry is clearly geared towards exports,” the report stated. “The balance of trade figures, both in terms of volume and monetary value, have been favorable every year since 2000.” It also cited economic globalization - specifically, reduced transport costs and computer technology - as a factor that has led to an increase in trade opportunities within the industry as well as allowing the entrance into new markets.

For 2007, Spanish exports of natural stone exceeded 1.0245 billion Euros (U.S. $1.6081 billion), an increase of 6.8% over the year before. Meanwhile, imports came to 377.35 million Euros (U.S. $592.31 million).

The report stated that competition in the international marketplace may have had an effect on the price of Spanish natural stone. “The Spanish natural stone industry has maintained a competitive edge in international markets, which have remained stable in spite of the emergence of China and India in the market,” according to the report.

“However, the sale price for each ton exported has fallen to 371.9 Euros (U.S. $583.75), which represents a decrease of 5.8% from the previous year."

With regard to destination of Spanish stone exports in terms of monetary value, 68% of export value is shipped within the European Union - mainly France (27%), the U.K. (13%) and Germany (10%). The U.S. (14%), China (9%) and the United Arab Emirates (4%) are Spain’s main non-EU clients in terms of export value.

In terms of exports according to volume, China is the main destination, accounting for 26% of the total, followed by France (20%), the U.K. (10%), Italy, Ireland, Germany and Portugal.

In regards to imports, China is Spain’s most important trade partner in the stone sector, accounting for 25% of the import value figure. Imports from the European Union account for another 28%, mostly from Italy and Portugal. Other important countries with regard to import value are Turkey (14%), India (12%) and Brazil (11%).

As far as import volume of stone into Spain, 38% comes from the European Union, with 29% coming from Portugal. China accounts for 21%, followed by Turkey (11%) and India (10%).

Insight from an industry leader

As one of the leading stone suppliers in Spain and the world, Levantina exports material to destinations around the world. The company’s stoneworking plants in Spain and Brazil process both marble and granite on a large scale, and the U.S. is a major target for its production.

Recently, Stone World sat down with Frank de Haan, International Sales and Marketing Director for Levantina, to gain some insight on how major international stone suppliers are dealing with the downturn in the U.S. marketplace.

Stone World: How are major suppliers like Levantina dealing with the economic crisis in the U.S

de Haan: Well, it’s obviously clear that the U.S. is a difficult market for us at this moment. We have to see if we’ve hit bottom yet, and I don’t think we’ve done so. Lower inventories [among U.S. stone suppliers] could also have an effect. Everybody saw this coming for some time, and the sub prime [mortgage] issue has compounded it. The cycle has been much more abrupt than we expected.

Stone World: Are there certain materials or products that have been hit harder than others?

de Haan: Granite has had more of an oversupply issue in the U.S. than marble; there are more competitors out there. I think the slab market suffered initially, but now the tile market has mirrored that. It also depends on the area of the U.S. Certain cities have obviously been more overbuilt than others.
In the U.S. though, there is still an opportunity to grow market share of natural stone against other sectors. There is a large potential to gain against ceramics, for example.<br><br>

Stone World: What about other regions of the world?

de Haan: Levantina is a worldwide company, and we are seeing an upside in areas such as Eastern Europe, South Africa and the Middle East, where they are really spending on real estate. China and the rest of the Far East are in good shape as well.

As I said, the U.S. is a very tough market for us at the moment, and so is Spain itself - particularly in the residential sector. But this is a cyclical industry, and we know that we cannot avoid that cycle. We are going to finish our projects, and look to come out stronger in the end.

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