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After enduring another very difficult year in 2011, there were numerous encouraging signs the U.S. economy and U.S. ceramic tile industry turned a corner last year and are on the road to recovery.

The U.S. residential market continued to expand in 2012, as new home starts increased for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, new home starts rose from 609,000 units in 2011 to 780,000 units in 2012, a 28.1% increase.

Existing home sales were at their highest level since 2007, jumping 9.0% from 3.8 million units in 2011 to 4.1 million units in 2012 (per the National Association of Realtors). Perhaps most encouraging was that new home sales, with which ceramic tile sales are closely linked, increased for the first time in seven years. While still at a low level historically speaking, the 19.9% increase (2012 vs. 2011) in new home sales reported by the Census Bureau was very good news for the economy and our industry.

Helping fuel this surge in housing were the falling interest and unemployment rates in 2012. 30-year fixed rate mortgages were at an all-time low of 3.66% (Freddie Mac), and the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.1%, the lowest it has been since 2008 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Additionally, the Census Bureau reported U.S. construction spending (including both private and public residential and non-residential construction) in 2012 was at $854 billion, a 9.8% increase from 2011.

U.S. Tile Consumption Overview:

U.S. tile consumption for 2012 was 2.19 billion sq. ft. (+5.4% vs. 2011).

The following table shows U.S. tile shipments, imports, exports, and total consumption in thousands of sq. ft.

2012TileInd Table1

*Note: U.S. Shipments + Imports - Exports

Imports:

In 2012, 1.49 billion sq. ft. of ceramic tile arrived in the U.S. This was an increase of 5.8% from 2011, in which 1.41 billion sq. ft. of ceramic tile were imported into the U.S., and a 7.0% increase from 2010.

Import penetration was at 68.0% in 2012, up slightly from 67.7% the previous year.

Mexico remained the top exporter to the U.S. in 2012 (in sq. ft.) with a 31.5% share. China held the second position, making up 27.6% of imports (in sq. ft.). Italy was in third place with a 17.1% share.

On a dollar basis, Italy continued to hold the top exporter position in 2012, making up 34.4% of U.S. imports. The next two highest shares belonged to China and Mexico, which had 23.5% and 18.5% of the $ value of U.S. imports, respectively.

The $ value/sq. ft. of all tile imports rose from $0.94 in 2011 to $0.97 in 2012.

The top five countries from which tiles were imported in 2012 based on sq. ft. were:

2012TileInd Table2

The top five countries from which tiles were imported in 2012 based on total U.S. $ value (including duty, freight, and insurance) were:

2012TileInd Table2

The average values of tile from the top five countries (based on sq. ft.) from which tiles were imported in 2012 were:

2012TileInd Table4

U.S. Shipments:

U.S. shipments (less exports) were at 702.7 million sq. ft. in 2012, up 4.5% from 2011.

Exports:

U.S. exports in 2012 were at 45.6 million sq. ft., up 0.7% vs. 2011. The vast majority of these exports (in sq. ft.) were to Canada (54.9%), Mexico (13.9%), and China (11.8%).

(Source: U.S. Commerce Dept.)