3 October, Verona

MARMOMACC, Day 2 – "This year," said a U.S. stone-tools seller during a quick chat here, "breaking even is doing good."

It’s a good assessment for the dimensional-stone trade on our side of the Atlantic. And, it’s also how European suppliers are viewing us, as they keep a steady eye on the dearth of U.S. orders and the upcoming presidential election.

We may not know the names of the heads of government in Germany and Italy (Merkel and Berlusconi, BTW), but everyone dealing with the American market knows about Obama, McCain, Biden and Palin. Few are favoring one side over the other at this point; it’s more of a relief that the next U.S. president will be a different one.

European vendors doing business in the United States also waited anxiously this week for news on the House vote concerning the $700 billion recapitalization plan. On this one, nobody rode the fence – everyone couldn’t wait for a yes vote

These aren’t a bunch of people looking for the United States to get its comeuppance for some fast-and-loose financial shenanigans. In the international stone market, the States is the top customer when it comes to worked stone, tooling and machinery. And that business depends on available capital.

That doesn’t necessarily mean tons of housing starts or big commercial jobs needing stone, although that’s certainly part of the equation. What foreign vendors need is a good credit market; companies don’t just show up in Verona with a couple hundred thousand in cash looking for a bridge saw.

As Wall Street wavered in the past few weeks, the available money for investment (including capital for leasing) all but dried up. Vendors here remain optimistic about the U.S. market – most see some flat demand for another year or so, but business will eventually pick up.

With little or no credit available, machines and materials aren’t moving west across the Atlantic. Vendors were waiting for at least a sign from Washington, but all they were seeing were the House’s "no" votes; whatever politicians were doing, they weren’t helping any U.S. efforts on the trade-show floor.

Not that anyone’s hurting for business, as traffic began to pick up and booths became busier with orders from other parts of the world. The English wasn’t flowing as freely in buying discussions, but Italian, German, Turkish and a surprising amount of Polish kept popping up from bargaining tables.


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