1. The housing market in general is quite strong and except for a part of the very high segment (explained below) for now there seems to be no signs of a bubble or an imminent slowdown. A lot of building of condominiums and apartments is going on, as well as single family homes and sales of used homes.
2. The commercial market has also picked up and is especially dynamic in places like Miami, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles. The mid-west and D.C./Virginia seem to be going through a slowdown and are not doing as well as other areas.
3.In the high end of the market where purchases by wealthy foreigners (mostly Chinese, Russians and Latin Americans), has been a big driver of sales, prices have gone up so much they are becoming unaffordable. This is especially true in places like South Florida and Manhattan. The inventory of unsold luxury homes has risen, which means a slowdown in the very exclusive segment of the market is inevitable and will affect those stone installers who have specialized in this area.
4. In Texas, especially Houston, where the oil industry is important to the economy (and also other parts of the country where oil industry is important), low energy prices have affected the construction market. Many stone companies working there are noting a serious slowdown in their business with construction activity sharply down.
5. Calacatta remains the king of the market in terms of demand, and the Italian suppliers of the real stone are charging and getting away with the astronomically high prices that can be commanded only by a high end luxury product. One consequence is also that industrial stone suppliers are coming up with excellent imitations and so fake stone too is getting away with charging high prices. One cannot help but wonder, though, of that unpredictable moment, when, as in all things that become a craze, the interior designers and architects suddenly collectively decide - now for something different!
6. The Brazilian exotic stones with those breathtakingly beautiful wavy patterns and all kinds of colour combinations, continue to be very popular in countertops. The copycat industry still has not been able to match the real stuff in this segment of the natural stone product range. Some exotic materials, however, are losing their attractiveness for distributors because prices have gone down so much there are no margins left. So much for the theory that to sell more one should lower the price!
7. Quartzites from Brazil is the latest fashion trend. Supply from Brazil is increasing fast to meet this new demand as the companies from the South American country are now focusing their production on this material.
8. Overall, sales of quartz are still increasing in USA. But the large number of quartz suppliers now supplying this product means there is severe price competition among manufacturers. Low prices also means that several distributors no longer find it attractive to work with quartz and are looking for something else. Quality control is also becoming an issue. What are the standards for quartz compared to that which exist for natural stone and other building materials is a question now many are asking.
9. Prices at the factory level of practically all kinds of stones from all over the world are down due to oversupply. However, those factories which have established themselves well among the distribution network in USA and have demonstrated a history of quality, reliability and timely deliveries, are doing relatively well. The strong market demand also means the importers are willing to pay an extra amount to these suppliers if it means less headaches for them.
10. As is only to be expected, with so much of competition, new companies keep trying to enter the US market- and they are being treated ruthlessly. The prices they get barely cover the production costs, and payment terms are interpreted so flexibly that basically the entire company survival is at risk if the American buyer chooses not to pay.
11. For all the buoyancy in the US market, there is a lurking fear in the minds of everyone that the party may stop anytime. The memories of the 2008 economic crisis are still fresh in the mind, and those who also read the financial news are as jumpy and nervous as any stockbroker. The general uncertainty and sticky economic recovery means the overall mood remains one of cautiousness even when orders are flowing in like never before and the company bank balance is healthy.