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The Worldwide Stone Trade Business

This purpose of this document is to provide the reader with an understanding of the dynamics of this business by retrieving the market trends behind the numbers. While the numbers will change every year, the marketing trends will last for some years.

All the data are reliable but not 100% accurate all the more that they slightly differ according to the sources but forgiving some estimates, the meanings of the numbers are true.

The data have been provided mainly by the IMM Carrara and the MIA.

In 2014 the worldwide trading of stone has reached about 90 millions tons for 24 Billions $ which is about the size of the chewing gum market.

The international business - the imports (or the exports) – account for 55% of the volume. Over the last 15 years, the volume of the international trade has been tripled.

What’s stone is used for?

About 75% of the stone processed in the world is used in construction:

  • 35 % for flooring
  • 22 % for wall cladding inside and outside.
  • 20% in cut to size items: kitchen and vanity tops, customized appliances
  • 3 % for steps and borders

And the other 25% are:

  • 16 % in memorial art
  • 9 % in civil works

Where is the stone extracted?

The main supply of the stone comes from quarries located in a few countries: China provides 31% of the volume, India 14%, Turkey 10%, Brazil 6%, Italy 5%, Iran 5%, Spain 4% and Egypt 3%.

Who are the main producers of added-value stone products?

China is leader with about 35% share but holds next to 50% of the granite market. China processes about 70% of the Indian granite. China has a 48% share of the exports of processed stone.

Italy comes after with a 13% share obtained through high-added value products but Italy position is declining.

Then comes Turkey with a 12% share but only 10% on processed stone. Yet Turkey is on a growing trend. About 80% of the raw stones produced in Turkey are exported to China. Turkey is the largest supplier of stone to China with about 800 M $, India being the second with 500 M $.

India gets an 11% overall share but only 7% for processed stone and Brazil a 7% share but only 5% on processed stone.

What are the most traded stones?

The commerce classification regroups the stones in two categories:

  • The calcareous stones. They are soft stones, easy to carve and saw with predominant beige color shades.
  • The siliceous stones. They are hard and dense stones with long-lasting appearance even if polished.
  • The slates are treated separately.

The calcareous stones encompass limestone, marble and travertine while the siliceous stones group is made of granite, basalt, sandstone and quartzite.

Let’s review an example of each stone:

  • Limestone is a sedimentary rock. A well-known limestone is Galala limestone extracted in Egypt. Limestone can be found anywhere in the world.
  • Marble is a metamorphic rock, a recrystallized limestone. The most well-known marble in the world is probably the Carrara marble, a white small crystal marble extracted in Carrara, Tuscany.
  • Travertine is a sort of limestone formed by hot mineral spring. Travertine can be found in volcanic areas. Initially extracted in Tibor near Roma, the most well-known travertine comes from Turkey where it is possible to see forming travertine in the white fields of Pamukkale. Travertine is quarried in some other countries like Peru, Mexico and China.
  • Granite is a colored igneous rock, mainly made of quartz and feldspar. It has been formed by the slow cooling of magma. The most well-known granite is probably the Padang Crystal from China. Similar granite can be found in the US, in Turkey, France, Brazil . . .
  • Basalt is a dark volcanic rock formed by the melting of the rocks. Basalt can be found in every tectonic place. The main quarrying regions are the island of Hainan in China and the South East of Hanoi.
  • Sandstone is a sedimentary rock made as a “cemented sand”. Most sandstones are mainly composed of quartz and feldspar. Sandstone is very common too on Earth. India quarries offer an amazing variety of sandstones. South Africa is rich of some nice material too. The most popular sandstone in the world is Ayers Rock in Australia but from a trade standpoint, the best known is the Modak sandstone in India.
  • Quartzite is a metamorphic sandstone, a crystalized sandstone owing to heat and pressure. The most used quartzite is the Brazilian one, from Sao Tome area.

In the past 15 years, the volume of the import/export of raw calcareous stones have been multiplied by 7 while it was multiplied by 1.7 for raw siliceous stones.

Calcareous stones represent 55% of the whole stone business. The strong net development of this category has been fostered by

  • First, Turkey because of the variety of marbles and the upsurge of the travertine business.
  • Second, by several European countries, namely Spain and Italy and in a lesser extent Portugal and Greece. Spain, Italy and Greece are large producers of marble while Portugal is a growing producer of limestone.

The growing importance of calcareous stone will be further fueled by the richness of options that can be provided by Middle East countries and Iran if the political situation allows it. Egypt is already a significant producer exporting about 3 Mons tons of limestone mainly in blocks to China.

A few words about slate. In the same 15 years, the trade volume of slate has grown by 1.6, slower than the other stones but it has been steady for the last 10 years. This volume is strictly related to the traditional use of slate as roofing tiles which is losing ground.

Where is the stone most used in the world?

Whereas the quarrying is quite concentrated, the use of processed stone is very widespread all around the world, but there are some major consumption markets: USA 15%, South Korea 11%, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Japan all with 5% share.

The USA are the largest consumers of Brazilian granite. They import about 700 Mons $ of processed granite from Brazil. They are also the first client of Turkish marble and travertine for 400 M$.

What are the main trends in terms of product use?

1 Flooring accounts for more than 1/3 of all the stone used around the world. The use of stone in flooring has been multiplied by 2.5 over the past 15 years. It will keep on growing because of two competitive factors:

  • Over the same period, the producing countries have acquired and controlled the technology that allows to produce stone tiles as easy-to-use as ceramic tiles: accurate thickness, precise sawing, good surface finishing and more consistency in the shade selection.
  • Quarrying countries keep prices low when they come to produce finished goods. 20 years ago, 50 % of Chinese exports were blocks and slabs while now it is less than 10 % and the average export prices of processed tiles have remained steady in current value at about 22-23$ per m2 for the last 15 years. The same has occurred with Turkey where actually the average export prices of processed marble has gone down by 20% over the past 15 years and this is due to the tremendous success of travertine all around the world.

2 The volume generated by the use on wall cladding have more than tripled over the last 15 years driven by a booming trend of interior wall cladding. Interior wall cladding moves about 9 M tons. This trend will be carried on. It is promoted by all the pre-assembled products such as:

  • The glued or concrete wall panels.
  • All the little tiles stuck on mesh.

These products are all made in Asia and they consist in transferring the labor cost from the expensive consumption markets to the cheap producing countries since the time-consuming part of the installation is made at the source.

3 The growing importance of cut to size items (and steps and borders) – the volume has been multiplied by 6 in 15 years – is supported by 3 characteristics of the stone industry:

  • The stone is the only long-lasting construction material that can be shaped to any dimensional requirements. This is nothing new, the cathedral builders knew it.
  • All the granite producing countries (China, Brazil and India) can deliver good quality slabs
  • The workshops of the consumption markets have gained in automation and so in efficiency. In the US 20% of the workshops are equipped with water jet cutting.

Conclusion : Over the last 25 years, the emerging countries – China first but also Brazil, India and Turkey – have deeply changed the business of natural stone:

  • It was a traditional handcraft material. It is now an automatically processed material.
  • It was a local material (people were using what they could find around).It is one of the most globalized business.
  • It was mainly a sophisticated material for luxury constructions. It is a common DIY item.

Yet, stone being a natural material, all professionals know that there is not a single piece of stone equal to another. This market will never be a “commodity” market; it will always require knowledgeable actors and continuous control.