U.S. dimensional-stone shipments drop.

 

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It couldn’t last forever.

After a decade and then some of rising values and volumes, U.S. dimensional-stone imports hit a rough patch in 2007, with most indicators showing less of the material arriving here … and nearly all of it sporting higher prices for distributors, fabricators and end-user clients.

The overall value of dimensional-stone imports last year bested 2006’s totals to set another record, but it’s a hollow achievement. The growth rate of less than one percent lagged behind any adjustment for U.S. inflation, and the weakening dollar abroad also boosted the price tag of most foreign goods, stone included.

The good news – or at least the optimist’s sunny viewpoint – is that those price factors are as volatile as the price charged for gasoline down at the corner pump. And, stone-producing companies may look for ways to increase sales to the United States.

ROCKY ROAD

The era of ultra-cheap foreign dimensional stone is over, at least for the near term. This isn’t exactly breaking news for most in the U.S. side of the trade, and may be a welcome message for those beset by cut-rate competitors. However, it also means an end to the high-powered climb of stone in the United States.

At least 80 percent of total U.S. dimensional-stone usage involves foreign stone. The import data from the U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Customs Bureau, as a result, offers a consistent annual snapshot of demand and material base value.

In 2007, the picture didn’t develop well at all for the U.S. stone industry.
The total customs value (shortened to value for the rest of this piece) of dimensional-stone imports arriving in the United States last year came to $3,323,023,095. And, yes, that’s a new all-time high, but that’s giving it too much credit.

For one thing, that’s a growth rate of only 0.82 percent from the 2006 total. Last year’s import value for stone also is a marked leveling-off from growth in previous years, such as the 17.4-percent rise from 2005-2006.

The growth also fell short of the $3,412,036,744 estimate for 2007 I made last November, based on historical import data. (And, as promised then, I’ll compare my mid-year import estimates for different types of stone with the actual results from 2007.)

Just because the total for dimensional-stone values stayed relatively the same in 2007, however, doesn’t mean that different types of stone remained the same. Nearly all imported stone went up in value dramatically, and the actual tonnage of stone moving through ports of entry decreased.