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STONE+TEC

stone tecInternational Trade Fair for Natural Stone and Stone Processing will be held on 13-16 May 2015 on the premises of the Exhibition Centre in Nuremberg.

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CERESER’S HALLMARK OF EXCELLENCE

cereserThe 18th General Meeting of the Stone Industry Employers Association took place on 20-22 March 2015 in Szarotka hotel in Zieleniec.

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SNEAK PREVIEWS

thibautThis year’s spring meeting at the headquarters of the French company Thibaut – the world famous manufacturer of machines for natural stone processing – was full of important sneak previews.

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NEW ORDER

Stone will make your immovable properties keep their value – this slogan takes a special meaning, because 2015 will be known for unprecedented rise of imported stone prices. Should we blame dollar rate, which got stronger by 25% and became expensive compared to other currencies? Opinions are divided here.

Most of our interviewees predict that the price rise of imported stone will reach as much as 30% by the end of the year. In case of a permanent lack of “colour” supplies from diminishing deposits, the prices will be even higher despite the growing demand for ready-made products in residential construction. Low interest rates and huge EU funds dedicated to infrastructural projects will surely improve the situation in this branch.  

ekonomia 1Kitchen tops, window-sills, floors, claddings – these goods may become indicators of economic situation for global stone industry. According to the data collected by The Freedonia Group, a company which deals with preparing market forecasts, global demand for tops is supposed to rise by 4.2% a year and reach 503 million sq metres in 2018. The profits predicted for us come from residential needs of a growing population and, in some countries, also from expanding and modernizing buildings for the society which is getting richer and richer. For example, in 2013 stone tops accounted for nearly a half of all kitchen surfaces in the US market, whereas in China they had just a 2% share. The Pacific and Asia region is thought to be very immature since furniture finished with stone surfaces is rarely used in households. Another thing is that in the analysed period as much as 40% of the demand for such goods was satisfied by Chinese stone companies. But it may change, too!  

Import of processed stone elements has been always growing since early 20th century. Recently we can see a significant increase of imported granite products and rocks which is caused by greater import from China and India.
– A stone from China? I bet that importing unprocessed stone or ready-made products won’t be profitable! – predicts Rafał Zahorski from Magemar Polska Ltd.

ekonomia 2– Many years ago when we were opening our office in Xiamen (China), I told you in Świat Kamienia that this sudden import from China is just a stage in the development of our market. Moreover, cheap tombstones and elements made of low quality materials found their place in the market dominated by terrazzo. We all remember that at first price difference was 1:5 in favour of Chinese goods which were sometimes produced “near the pit”. What can we see today? Closed pits with cheapest raw materials, unprofitable export in case of lowest quality production and a huge, even gigantic, we can say, increase in labour force costs in China recently. In 2006 we paid 12 RMB for one euro whilst today only 7 RMB! A high dollar exchange rate and a low euro exchange rate are making import from China completely unprofitable. What is worse, environmental standards, which are consistently introduced in China, will eliminate obsolete stone plants.  

What about EU countries? Analysts predict that after the stagnation period (decrease in kitchen tops demand in the years 2007-2013) we may expect a slow, but stable, growth. The new programme of residential building is supposed to be the main beneficiary of this growth.   

Poland seems to be a country which deals perfectly well with rising needs of a richer and richer society. We must say at the very beginning that wealth will decide about choosing the customer. Right now we – stonemasons – must face a new situation which is present in the whole world. A significant price rise of stone (blocks and slabs) has been with us for at least a few months and we have to prepare our customers for this new reality.   

– A huge surplus, especially of tombstones, leads to the situation that stonemasons are starting to accept orders on the verge of production profitability. They think that it is better to produce something at cost than to pay for shutdown of the plant. But this will lead us to liquidation of companies. We are going to pass on price rise costs to our customers. The margins in stone industry reached such a low level that cost rationalisation or efficiency growth are not enough – says Adam Bałanda from Vetro company.

– Even if dollar does not maintain its high exchange rate, prices will remain at a new higher level or they will keep going up. The exchange rate growth became just an excuse and a good justification for price rises. It is worth to note that price rises do not refer only to materials settled in euro but also to those settled in dollars. New prices justified by conversion from euro to dollars is a response of pits, especially in India and Africa, to an enormous demand of our market, rising salary costs, necessity to enlarge and change the structure of extraction. It is a pity that the demand for blocks does not result directly from the demand of the stone market itself, but rather from a huge capacity growth of plants which has been observed in recent years. The price will keep rising until this market is stable. What is worse, the quality of materials will go down.  

Current freight rates have been the lowest for many years, but we know that it is going to change, too. It will add another incentive and argument for rise of imported stone prices and, finally, will contribute to a significant increase in production of slabs and ready-made goods made from European stones. Interesting signals are coming not only from African market.

– Prices in quarries went up and at this moment a cubic meter of top quality blocks in South Africa costs between 10,000 and 6,000 ZAR – depending on the excavation and the size of blocks. Ukrainians are also happy with the high dollar exchange rate, says Jacek Kiszkiel, the co-owner of one of the largest stone companies in Poland.

ekonomia 4– What can “new order” on our market be? It can be good, I guess, only for those who can get stones from pits in good prices. This situation can be favourable for stone wholesalers because they will be regulating prices – if somebody wants to sell more, he will lower the price. For me, as a producer of stones, which, undoubtedly, are present on the Polish market and play some role, it is important to be able to sell them. If I raise the price to the highest level in the market, I will be left only with quarries. I can’t forget that I am also a producer of granite blocks in the RSA and in the Ukraine, so if a cubic metre of a block is extracted in a South African pit, it will finally come to Poland and find itself in a cutting machine after four months or more. It is huge freezing of money, so we must ask the following question now: should I lend to all the people around me until I lose my financial liquidity or should I just sell my products in a logical way? Or it may be better to keep a good price for wholesalers and offer special rates for retail customers, at least from my province? I just have to predict the competition activities. Polish stone market is not speaking with one voice. This is a fact and the most important problem which cannot be solved right now.  

Our interviewees stress that what is happening this spring is a temporary situation, because wholesalers have full stocks, so they will have to sell their materials from the last year. This situation raises concern about market speculations. We can expect nervous moves from companies which so far have bought stone in American currency and sold in euro. There are some who openly show their irritation today.  

– I’m surprised with a big uproar about the dollar exchange rate that has broken out recently. We can hear everywhere that we must expect huge rises this year and that wholesalers are in a very difficult situation. Is it really so? I’m not sure. We have already experienced the time when dollar exchange rate was over 4 zlotys and we could see the price rises that followed it. The dollar exchange rate fell down then, but did wholesalers reduce their prices? I don’t remember it. Right now dollar is going up a little bit, but it is not being said to go beyond 4 zlotys. Actually it is the opposite. More and more often the dollar rate is said to go down, but we can still hear about its decrease – a big one, even a 30% one!  Why is it so? I can’t find the answer. I’d like to say: this is not the way we should go, because we, I mean stone companies, are becoming less competitive with European stone companies! – says Jan Ziętek, the owner of Lastrico company.

Pits are at the beginning of “food chain” whereas stonemasons are at its end. Or maybe the market is saturated with machines too much? Three years ago it was said that “capacity” of all wire saws in Poland is bigger than the whole supply of blocks, both imported and Polish ones. Are just production plants having problems with rising costs?  

ekonomia 5– No. Margins of intermediaries are very low. The margin includes the cost of going to the quarry and the risk of choice, sometimes burdened with complaint costs, storing costs in sea ports, stock movement costs in Poland, maintenance costs of outlets, storehouses and warehouses. It is enough to say that 2013 and 2014 were, I think, the worst years for stone wholesalers in terms of profitability. For some it was the time when they didn’t make any profit, but they just wanted to survive on the market. Some companies withdrew from the Polish market and some are for sale. They are still in Poland because nobody wants to buy their branches – says Rafał Zahorski. – Stone prices are affected by its demand in India, South Africa or Scandinavia. Right now we are really missing a high quality stone. This year is the first when customers are fighting to get nice blocks. Like 10 years ago! Today customers are going to Sweden and coming with nothing. They are going to India and coming with 30% of material they would like to buy. And this is the main factor which shows that prices are going up. It is like with stock exchanges. Purchase costs have no big influence – if there is no product, customers accept higher prices.

It seems that the rise will improve profitability of intermediaries. A representative of a wholesale which specialises in importing stone from India, Brazil and South Africa expressed his opinion even more clearly:
– Intermediaries have lost more than a half of their margin in the last few years. What they are left with is the minimum they need to survive on the market. They are afraid that in the long term they will be getting only commissions instead of margins – says Tomasz Staniszewski from Inbra Polska. – Further production growth and even bigger import are making a speculative bubble, which, one day, when it bursts, may become a real disaster for our branch. The problem of rising prices comes back at the beginning of every stone season. Some small rises (by a few per cent) of materials did not cause any problems, but this season surprised all market players. New, more important factors joined the group of those that affect price levels. I mean currency prices and relations between them, the degree of monopolising sources of obtaining materials and their distribution or even price fixing and commercial strategies of key suppliers on the market.  

The general situation on the stone market will depend, to a large extent, on the rate of economic growth in Poland and wallet sizes of final customers.
Finally, I would like to recall an opinion of a supporter of branch solidarity who used to complain in our magazine that stone is as cheap as …. coal.  

ekonomia 3– Unfortunately, for many years the companies have been fighting with each other and lowering prices by just one zloty. This way they were spoiling the market. Strengthening of the American currency will make the prices go up, which, actually, will not be a rise in the strict meaning of this word, but rather a reflection of the price in zlotys in reference to the dollar exchange rate. When buying luxury goods, customers are more and more often looking for quality rather than for low price. Customers who, for example, look for perfectly, top quality marble like thassos or bianco sivec do not ask “how much is it” but rather “when is it going to be available?” Stones like white marble or portoro are not bought, they are won in the battle! Recently we have been observing that more and more customers are interested in top quality stones, which are, of course, expensive. Also investors are more and more often looking for more sophisticated stones like marbles, granites or travertine which do not come from China, which means that, even with a high dollar exchange rate, they are more expensive. I believe that this tendency will continue in the next few years – says Michał Nowak, the president of M+Q Polska.

Stone is still, however, a relatively unpopular finishing material. How can we convince customers (in this new situation) that it is still worth buying? We would need another article to answer this question.
 
– Stone is eternal but not unchangeable. The cost of obtaining it is also changeable, because economics is based on unchangeable principles. We must pay more because we have a weaker currency and the source of a raw mineral is more expensive which can be proven by the record of dollar exchange rates and FOB prices of selected Indian stones in 2012-2015 – says Jarek Świadek from Hermes Gabrostone Sp. z o.o.

Rafał Dobrowolski

A MARBLE… WEDDING DRESS

sukniaThe project of a marble wedding dress was completed a year ago. Then, a 33-year-old Alasdair Thomson hit into an idea of creating a sculpture that would be different from all sculptures which had been made before.

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     Wszystkie prawa zastrzeżone - Świat-Kamienia 1999-2012
     Projekt i wykonanie: Wilinet