Stone imports continue to drop.

 

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When times get bad, someone wanting to inch towards the positive usually offers the old saw about seeing the glass half-full, not half-empty.

With U.S. dimensional-stone imports in 2009, maybe the best thing to say is that the glass is just, well, half.

Imports through the first six months of 2009 show at least one positive – things aren’t (for most stone types) getting worse. The overall numbers, though, indicate that the amount of stone coming into this country is down from 2007 – the market peak – by almost half.

Not all stone types took a massive drop. But, it’s granite and travertine – the market drivers for the go-go years of the mid-2000s – that’s fell on hard times.

U.S. import figures show what could be a telling trend from the past three years. The first six months of 2007 through 2009 show remarkably similar patterns for the value of stone shipments and, by proxy, the overall condition of the stone market.

The problem is that the tonnage figures also ratchet down each year. Im other words, it’s starting to look like 2009 is business as usual as far as the pattern of demand ... but the amount of business is running at a lower level than in the past, with no indication of a market upturn

TOEING THE TREND LINE

Gleaning trends on the U.S. dimensional-stone industry from import data may seem a bit roundabout, but the shipping figures are the best – and, for the most part, only – way to measure the market. Imports provide up to 85 percent of the dimensional-stone market – the amount that can be traced to its source, at least – so what comes into U.S. ports is likely the best barometer of domestic stone trade.

For most of the 2000s, looking at the import numbers from the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security and the U. S. International Trade Commission became more of an international horse race, as countries tallied record tonnage and import values of products. For most, the only direction possible with each report was up.

The climb continued until 2007, but that year’s totals showed a diminished growth rate, which can portend a market drop. The sinking feeling came last year, fed by a cornucopia macabre of mortgage foreclosures, residential and commercial construction slowdowns, tightened credit and business failures. While that’s the story for most U.S. industries, it hit particularly hard for the stone trade.

The first-half of this year continued in a business funk. For those following the occasional StatWatch of the Editor’s Blog , monthly figures on volume and value continued to trail last year by a wide margin.