May 2021: Overview

The General View: If there’s a slowdown in U.S. hard-surface imports, it’ll win the 2021 award for Loitering Economic Indicator of the year. Maybe it’s lurking until late summer. Maybe it’s not coming at all. Mays' import data show no hints at all. The Expected: Year-to-year growth rates in all sectors are astronomic, but that’s no surprise. May 2020 marked the nadir of U.S. imports last year with the first, and the harshest, pandemic slowdown. Granite’s 34% year-to-year customs-value hike in May is, like April, the last car on the train; marble leads the way at 135%. The Unexpected: A continued soft rate in month-to-month growth in value for quartz slabs, with May totals topping April’s by only 3.1%, with shipment volume rising by 3.2%. The sector, however, remains the strongest pillar of hard-surface imports, accounting for 32.7% of the $438.3 million of total material customs value. The Strange: Porcelain-tile import value in May beat the previous month by one of the barest of margins: 0.2%. While quartz slabs and porcelain inched upwards in May, marble – the material that the two man-made surfaces seek to replace – shot up 21.4% in value. Marble’s $64 million in May is edging closer to the point of overtaking granite. Next Month: It’s still open-wallet time in the United States, as higher prices aren’t deterring spending in many areas, including residential renovation. Higher shipping costs should check growth and cool down business. Maybe the effects will show up next month, but that looks like a bet with more risk than reward.