First half of 2006 is positive for Italian exports

December 1, 2006
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Over the first six months of 2006, Italy exported nearly 2.4 million tons of raw and finished marble and granite, an increase of 2.2% over the same period in 2005. Moreover, these exports were worth over $1.16 billion, (910 million Euro), marking an increase of 9.9% over the same period in 2005 (including chips, slate and porphyry). These figures were announced by Internazionale Marmi e Macchine Carrara (IMM Carrara), which has processed official data from Istat, the Central Statistics Office. IMM Carrara reported that these figures are “positive and encouraging signs for marble and granite,” even if the levels of 2000 and 2001 have not been recovered yet.

The growth in export value is significant, according to IMM Carrara, because it concerns finished marble and granite products, which have the highest added value, with an increase in mean values per ton of exports, rewarding the work done by the Italian companies in foreign markets. In particular, the European Union has shown slight growth in mean values, even though the German market has decreased (-9% by volume and -4.3% by value), with problems especially in the volume of finished marble. In the European market, Spain has decreased its imports of finished marble, the UK has remained stable, and France is importing more products, especially granite. Non-EU Europe is also sending positive signs for finished marble - over $40.7 million (32 million Euro) alone - with Switzerland and Russia among the notable export targets. While Russia’s imports have chiefly involved finished marble, Switzerland has imported a broader range of materials, and its overall stone imports have reached $57.2 million (45 million Euro).

Unfortunately, the slate sector remains heavily affected by global competition, and the loss of some markets has not been set off by growth in other markets.

The U.S. market

North America remains one of Italy’s prime export targets, with the U.S. always being the greatest importer of finished products - from polished slabs to more complex stonework. Compared to the same period in 2005, U.S. imports of Italian stone have increased 6.4% by volume and 11.3% by value over the first six months of 2006. This includes finished and raw marble, granite and other stones.

“It is a very important result that needs no further comment, even if we must always be very cautious about these figures, because the problems and difficulties of our industry exports are due to negative economic trends and structural problems - related to the deep changes that have taken place in the global markets and in the sharing of the productive roles,” said Giancarlo Tonini, president of IMM Carrara. “Therefore, we must always comment on the ongoing processes and situations that change in real time, bearing in mind the needs of the industry in the search for new markets, aware that they are selling a product with a high added value that must lead us to approach the markets as a system.”

Other international markets

The Near and the Middle East - as well as the Asian regions - are sending positive signs to the Italian stone industry; the best in the last few years, according to IMM Carrara.

For the Middle East, growth mainly concerns finished products, but caution is required because these figures are relatively small. As such they are easily affected by small changes, even if the exports (especially finished marble and granite), are promising and are growing again in terms of quantity and mean value. The trend is led by the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, while some regression is found in Saudi Arabia, which is the greatest market in the region, and the events that hit Lebanon (which had been growing until June) and Israel could be comparatively influential.

Trends are also positive in the Far East, after years of a “relentless fall,” with growth in their imports of Italian blocks and raw slabs. The mean value of finished products is also increasing evidence of an optimistic overall trend of an area that includes very different and complicated situations.

Along with China, which has set out to become more and more of a destination market as well as a competitor for Italian producers, India is clearly emerging and, even with small figures, it imports raw and finished products and appears to be primed for increased imports in the future.

Statistics from Africa, especially Mediterranean Africa, confirm a trend that has seen Italian stone exports increase steadily over the years, including marble blocks and slabs as well as finished marble and granite.

Imports

Overall, Italy imported 1.495 million tons of material (especially raw material) over the first six months of 2006, which represented a rise of 2.2% over the same period in 2005. The value of these imports was $386.4 million (304 million Euro), an increase of 15.8% over the same period last year. The rise in granite imports set off a slight drop in the first quarter, while the imports of finished products are increasing, (moderately when compared with Italy’s exports), even if imports of finished granite are starting to be felt.

Among suppliers to Italy, a key role is played by Spain, followed by Finland, while a newcomer is Slovenia. (Although Slovenia’s figures are still very small, the overall dynamic is interesting.) Still essential are Norway (decreasing) and Turkey (increasing) among the European suppliers, while the African area is dominated by South Africa and Zimbabwe, with the reappearance of Mozambique and Egypt, which qualify as both a supplier and a customer. In South America, Brazil retains its positive balance in terms of values and volumes, which are already quite high, while India and China show no significant variations.

Italian districts

According to IMM Carrara, the district of the Apuan Alps and Versilia (Carrara region) show a livelier and more dynamic trend than that of Veneto (Verona region), although its absolute figures remain lower.

The exports of the companies working in the provinces of La Spezia, Lucca and Massa Carrara in the first six months made up over 1 million tons overall (+10.99%) worth $343 million (270 million Euro) (+17%), although there was a substantial decrease in the exports of granite blocks and slabs. The particularly positive trend of finished marble (+21% by value) is mostly accounted for by the North American and the Middle Eastern markets, where the Tuscan operators have fared well for a long time. Even in non-EU Europe, the Tuscan district records solid performance, although it is scarcely present in the German market, which is essential for the industry as a whole.

In the Veneto region, companies are doing well in the U.S. market and remain marginal in the Middle East, with a negative balance in the Far East, where the Tuscan presence is supported mostly by raw and finished marble.

The technology sector

Exports of processing and cutting machinery, along with tooling, have increased compared with the same period in 2005. A number of interesting markets are opening up to Italian companies that supply stone processing and quarrying technology. Total exports of stone cutting, polishing and processing machinery and tooling exceeded $286 million (225 million Euro) for the first six months of 2006, an increase of 14.5% over the same period a year ago. “If the next few months confirm the trend of the first six months, 2006 will close as a great year for machinery as well,” reported IMM Carrara.

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