First Quarter 2019
One leader fades away and another rises in quartz-surface shipments. But will tariffs throw shade as the year goes on?
Photo by HuskyHerz / Pixabay
By Emerson Schwartzkopf
The first three months of 2019 saw a major change in U.S. imports of hard surfaces, and the reason's easy to spot: tariffs on materials from China.
Shipment are slowing from China -- from various declines in natural stone due to blanket 301 tariffs, to the vanishing of quartz surfaces as massive unfair-trade tariffs hit as a result of Cambria Company LLC's petition to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC).
The first quarter is never a strong one for hard-surface imports from China, as the slow U.S. building season combines with China's Spring Festival/Lunar New Year season. This year's numbers, though, remain weak.
The void left by Chinese quartz surfaces disappearing from the market is being filled by others, notably India and Turkey. Both of those countries, however, now face a new challenge from another unfair-trade petition from Cambria before the USITC.
Quartz surfaces get the spotlight, but there's also good news with a continued upturn in granite imports and other natural-stone sectors staying strong in shipments or customs values.
The following information comes from information released by he USITC, along with analysis by Stone Update. (Comparisons with 2018 data are shown in parentheses.
All charts are interactive. Click on the tabs to see 2019 and 2018 data; click on the chart bars to see a specific country's data.
24,106,508 ft² (-23.5%)
India, 7,822,998 ft² (+460.6%)
The then-provisional tariffs on Chinese quartz surfaces took the chunk out of first-quarter 2019 imports. China's shipments dropped from 18.8 million ft² in 2018 to 440,652 ft² this January through March -- an evaporation of 97.7%.
India made the most of China's absence, but plenty of other countries found year-to-year gains, such as Spain (37.3%), Turkey (206.2%), Canada (11.4%), Vietnam (27%), Italy (185.6%) and South Korea (355.7%). The only major downturn came with Israel (-40.1%).
Spain, $54,268,703 (+32%)
Extracting China from the U.S. quartz market took $129.3 million of value out of 2019's first-quarter totals, but other countries manage to add $72 million from last year. India increases its value by 438.9%, and both Turkey and South Korea beat 2018 totals by 189.6%.
Italy also makes a major move up. The only drop by a major player is Israel's 63.1% dip.
315,419 metric tons (+12.2%)
Brazil, 157,795 metric tons (+26.7%)
Granite becomes the brightest sector in hard surfaces for the first three months of the year, with double-digit growth in total tonnage and from Brazil, the top U.S. source. The healthy uptick is astounding, given that February shipments looked weak compared to the same time last year.
The good news comes with a price. Or, to sharpen the point, a real cost.
Brazil, $90,379,782 (+15.7%)
Increasing the tonnage by more than 12% from last year while essentially declaring the same value means that more stone is changing hands for less money. There's an 11-point difference between Brazil's shipments and the cash at the dock, and it's not running in the country's favor.
92,306 metric tons (-10.3%)
Turkey, 24,739 metric tons (-32.4%)
Grab the two numbers above and there's a quick case to be made that the shine is off natural marble. Don't be hasty.
Italy shows a 10% gain from the first three months of last year, while India is up 18.2% and Brazil leaps ahead of 2018 by 46.5%. China, the second-largest U.S. provider at this time last year, cut shipments by 26.3%.
Italy, $52,163,189 (+13.1%)
Italian marble commands premium prices, so the large lead over other countries isn't surprising. The double-digit growth by Italy, though, shows a market that's willing to pay more. India and Brazil also boosted import values by $2 million each ahead of first-quarter 2018.