The situation of the stone industry in the world in mid- 2024.

Anil Taneja,

As we enter the second half of 2024,  it is time to make a short summary of how things currently stand in the natural stone industry. Below are some highlights:

1. At the start of the year there were expectations that inflation would finally be under controlled in most markets, interest rates would start their decline, and this would kickstart the moribund  construction activity.. Six months later, that has not happened. There are too many disruptions taking place, conflicts, high shipping rates, high energy prices, etc.

2. The start of 2024  was unusually slow in terms of business for the stone industry, but during last 2 months the construction/renovation activity has  picked up sharply. But that leads to another question- if even the months of spring and summer were also to show weak activity, how can the stone industry ever survive the low season ?

3. The slowdown in China is undeniable, what is striking is its purchases of blocks are now different. From placing huge orders for marble or granite blocks of stones used in projects as was the case before, the Chinese purchases are now more of stones used in decoration. In other words, the 'premium' stones are now where the demand is.

4. The prices of porcelain slabs continue to decline and already some fabricators now do not find it economically attractive to work with porcelain. One unforeseen consequence has been that cheap porcelain tiles have started replacing the lower priced natural stone tiles. In recent months a very large number of single cutter processing units in India have closed down, not due to  slowdown in economic activity, but due to the porcelain tiles made in the country rapidly taking away market share in the low priced segment of the market.

5. The US market was slow during 2023 and also in the first months of 2024. But  demand in terms of orders placed by importers increased  since May. The biggest beneficiaries, however, have been quartz factories all over the world, and suppliers of  quartzite, mostly from Brazil.

6. There has been greater  promotion of load bearing stone for building as the most ecological alternative. Most of this promotional effort has so far been in UK. A laudabe initiative.

7. The huge Turkish marble industry finds itself trapped in the worst possible situation. Its main Chinese market for raw materials has declined sharply, the local economy is suffering from a massive crisis with red hot  inflation and interest rates exceeding 50%. The Turkish industry is clearly overdimensioned, there is simply no way it can maintain its current size.

8. The outlines of the new age in the natural stone industry are now starting to be visible, but it is all still very tentative. The small companies are the ones  experimenting with new textures and finishes and with new applications.  Most of these companies  have purchased the modern CNC machines recently, they have low fixed costs, the transition to a new generation has more or less sucessfully taken place, and the younger generation is open to experimentation and exploring the full possibilities of natural stone.

9. The bigger sized companies all over the world are the ones suffering the most, trying to control costs and adapt in an environment of much lower demand.

10. The traditional trade shows in the stone industry in 2024 have  clearly been disappointing in terms of visitors. However, more and more stone companies are starting to exhibit in fairs or  participate in events targeted towards interior designers, architects and end consumers