Granite: Marking Time

The last lap leading surface imports?

Worked granite imports remained atop U.S. hard-surface imports in 2017. It’s unlikely it’ll keep that position in 2018.

Shipments of worked granite to the United States fell by 4% in 2017, due mainly to less tonnage from two of the main suppliers. Brazil, the clear U.S. market leader, dropped by 8.1% from 2016, while China fell by 3.5%. Only India produced some gain with a low 2.7% increase.

For Brazil, 2017 marked the first down year since the end of the Great Recession. Tonnage totals for every month came in below the same period in 2016, and the annual total fell below 700,000 metric tons for the first time since 2012. The performance is nowhere close to the disastrous late 2000s (with the 2009 bottoming-out at 443,646 metric tons), but it’s also a large step down from 2014’s 1.1-million metric tons.

A look at five-year trends in U.S. imports of worked granite offers no suggestion of the market running off the cliff in the face of strong competition from quartz surfaces. While Brazil’s 2014 shipments of more than 1 million metric tons continues to sound impressive, it also looks like more of an anomaly in a mature surfaces market.

Among the top six importers to the United States, the gaps separating the top three countries (Brazil, China and India) are relatively the same in 2013 and 2017. The next three countries (Spain, Canada, Italy) swap positions during those five years, but seem to flatten out export volume in the past three years.

Worked granite may be taking some market licks from quartz surfaces and other products, but it’s also keeping a solid footing in supply … at least for now.

What’s really altering worked granite’s marketing isn’t supply; it’s value. There’s a more-for-less formula that occurs in 2017 with several parts of U.S. hard-surface imports, but none as apparent as with the top product.

It’s right in the totals: When imports drop by 4% but values decline by 8.2%, price or profit margins are going down.

Brazil’s 2017 difference between shipments and values is -3%, but China takes the lead in getting less for its worked granite with a -5.6% gap. India posted positive numbers in both volume

The value-per-ton (VPT) comparisons of the top six worked-granite exporters shows that while each country followed different paths, five of them ended up with less value for their product from 2013 to 2017. (Italy, the sixth country, saw a major gain from 2013-2017, but U.S. shipments also fell by 46.5% in the same period.)

Two other items of note with worked-granite VPN: Canada and Spain marked the largest margin of increase in volume of exports to the United States from 2013-2017, but also experienced the biggest drop in VPN at the same time. And Brazil’s 2014 boom in shipments came with a massive divot in values, with a $835.43 VPN in 2013 to a $584.11 VPN in 2014.