1.- In early 2019 there are expectations of greater demand for natural stone compared to last year. The orders being placed in the first two months of the year to the natural stone factories all over the world seem to be in line with these expectations.
2.- Quartzite from Brazil is still very much in demand. The brilliant colours and vein patterns has made them popular. Taj Mahal and white quartzite backgrounds are especially in demand. There also seems to be greater demand for the lower priced granite slabs, especially greys and whites, from Brazil, Indian and European producers.
3.- White colour still remains in fashion, for now. Calacatta is still the King. There are signs of grey colour now becoming more popular, but it is still early days to assert anything more definite regarding a major change in trend.
4.- During last several years there has been increased demand for natural stone in the exterior residential and patio segment: outdoor fireplaces, cooking areas, sitting zones and other social areas. The swimming pool areas in the residential market is one segment where natural stone continues to find an outlet.
5.- The housing market remains very strong in practically all over the geographically vast country. Interest rates remain low and, for now, Wall Street is not yet talking of a “real estate bubble”. In some parts of the country, in Manhattan, for example, however, “affordability” of housing is the word more used. In some parts of the country the talk revolves around shortage in housing.
6.- Many home owners look to resell their house, so when they do renovation, they want to play safe. Till now this sentiment has played in favour of quartz. It is in the premium segment where buyers look for trendy materials, and price is not a criteria. Strangely or, perhaps, not so strangely, this is where premium priced porcelain, backed by mega marketing budgets, is starting to find an opening, threatening even exclusive, premium natural stone.
7.- The commercial projects market varies from region to region. In cities like Atlanta and Miami, there is growth: high rise hotels, condominiums, office buildings, banks, etc. There are also a large number of churches being built. But in cities like Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, Seattle etc. commercial projects seem to be in decline. Generally speaking, natural stone still has a good market in the segment of commercial projects. There are still many projects on the drawing boards.
8.- As in many European countries, the increased construction activity in a growing economy after a long period of stagnation has led to severe shortages of educated and qualified fabricators, people who are able to work with the modern CNC and automated machinery. There is a shortage of draftsmen, machine operators, cladding and flooring installers, full kitchen installers.
9.- There are reports of resinated and mesh back flooring creating problems in the market even as its overall use is increasing, since many stone producers are choosing poor quality resins, based only on the criteria of lower price. Mesh backed tiles are failing on floors and delaminating after time making the tiles or paving loose.
10.-. Quartz is still the rage. This is what the market is demanding and the industry wants to stock. However, the tariffs on quartz from China has created a lot of uncertainty regarding supply. The importers, in anticipation of the tariffs, made sure they were well stocked end of last year, but the fast moving colours may soon be out of stock if the disruption in supply continues and high tariffs become definite. The uncertainty is compounded by the fact there are several American importers, fabricators and installers, who have come together to fight against the imposition of the tariffs by the US government.
11.- The huge increase in production of big format porcelain in Europe means the manufacturers are now making serious efforts to enter the US market. Early reactions have been mixed- from the positive, with some wholesalers poised to shift their business in a big way towards pushing porcelain by replacing quartz, to the negative, in the sense of serious difficulties being reported in fabrication. However, this may well part of the learning process of working with a new material. Time will tell. In the meantime the huge production of big format porcelain is leading to a continuous decline in its prices, month by month. As of now porcelain and other alternatives seem to be evolving towards two product segments- the premium brands which can command high prices and where the manufacturers also exercise control over the logistics and final fabrication, and the commodity segment of porcelain, where the savage price wars have begun with no end in sight.
12. Payment terms offered by some US wholesalers to the porcelain suppliers in many cases are mindblowing- from 180 to as much as 360 days! The response of the porcelain producers remains to be seen- will they accept this way of working or will they set up their own stockyards in a big way? In fact, some porcelain manufacturers are already setting up their own warehouses and fabricating units.
Acknowledgments: Our thanks to Mr Saket Hans,Mr Jeffrey Matthews, Mr Sanjiv Goenka and Mr Luis Corrales for information and insights provided for this article.
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