Marble could also be seen as a laggard with its 13.5-percent increase in mid-year imports, although it’s hard to argue against a total of $264.6 million coming into the country.

The big drivers in the first half of 2006 are – as seen in the last few years – travertine and granite. Travertine, marble’s closest kin in stone, moved closer to overtaking its calcareous cousin with its $259.2 million, posting an 18.7-percent overall rise from mid-year 2005.

Granite, meanwhile, spent the first half of this year building its position as the king of dimensional stone. The customs value of granite brought into the United States in 1H 2006 is $732.4 million, representing a 26.4-percent increase from the same time last year.

Add up all the value of stone imported into the country in the first half of 2006, and granite accounted for 46.9 -percent with its $734.2 million. Compare that to 1996, when all dimensional-stone imports for the entire year only came to $564.3 million.

Is there anything to put the brakes on continued growth? Economists like to point to declining U.S. housing starts and soft real-estate sales in calling for a slowdown in the construction market, but stone isn’t likely to follow suit.
 
Homeowners who end up staying put in their current digs usually consider remodeling, where stone use remains strong. And, stone’s continued affordability is a plus.

Stone imports may slow from one important source – China – due to an ongoing political tussle involving the Chinese government’s policy of keeping the value of its national currency, the renminbi (or yuan), constant with the U.S. dollar. Controlling the value of the yuan makes Chinese goods affordable in the United States, which some politicians see as a detriment to U.S. industries.

A move in the U.S. Congress to impose a 25-percent tariff on all Chinese goods gained enough steam to force China into increasing the value of the yuan. This would make anything from China – including stone – more expensive, and some Chinese stone vendors are now raising prices to compensate for a possible drop in U.S. orders. Whether this will lead to a decline in overall U.S. stone usage, or if materials from other countries would pick up the slack, remains to be seen.

GRANITE

Granite remains the driving force in U.S. dimensional stone. Through the first half of this year, it continues with tremendous growth in the amount imported into the country – both in dollar value and tonnage.

The customs value of all dimensional granite entering the United States indicates that there’s no letting up with the stone’s power in the market. All of granite’s Big Four – Brazil, China, India and Italy – posted gains in the first half of 2006, compared with the same time last year.

Not all of the Big Four grew their imports equally, however. China posted the largest gain – 53.9 percent – from the first half of last year, followed by granite import leader Brazil with 35.5 percent. India grew by a healthy 20.8 percent, while Italy’s gain looked somewhat marginal at 10.6 percent.