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2001: What prospects in the USA?

Market analysis

Since we are already at the start of the second quarter, we can provide a fairly good outline of prospects and expectations for this year. The current economic phase, which began at the end of the year 2000, is characterised by a trend towards recession and has definitely slowed local consumption. This does not, for the moment, seem to have had any negative effect on the ceramic industry, which, of course, follows a path parallel to that of the construction industry. The latter has undoubtedly benefited from repeated cuts in interest base rates effected by the Federal Reserve, thus explaining why tile sales volumes have so far remained high. The recent Las Vegas (Surfaces) Trade Fair confirmed this trend and the next eagerly-awaited litmus test will come with Coverings, the traditional importers’ showroom that this year will be held in the fascinating setting of New Orleans. A certain hesitance in investment attitudes has been noted among local tile producers, a continuance of that “wait and see” approach that, over the last five years, has allowed importers to regain the upper hand in terms of imported tile-locally produced tile ratios. The year 2001 is likely to be a transition year as far as investment is concerned, as the big companies such as American Marazzi, Crossville, Monarch Tile and Dal Tile have already invested in 2000. All the companies are intent on searching out new cost-cutting solutions and an increasingly important element is the cost of fuel, which weighs heavily on finished product transport and even more so on manufacturing costs. The current price of gasoline varies from 1.5 - 2 $/gallon, yet the more pessimistic analysts expect it to reach 2.5-3 $/gallon over the coming months, during what is traditionally the “hottest” consumption period because of the summer season. Optimisation of internal transport is thus a key goal. Natural gas shot up by 50% over the last year, bringing average prices to around 400-450 Lire/m³ and the figure is likely to rise again. Given this situation it is essential for ceramic machinery and plant manufacturers to design and build machines that help local producers in their fight to reduce consumption. At the Ceramitec fair a great deal of interest was shown in the Sacmi Forni-perfect system, which reduces consumption on roller kilns, a solution which has the further advantage of being installable on existing kilns of recent manufacture.

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