Continued squeeze on cement supply

Continued squeeze on cement supply
Published: 20 September 2004

China’s demand for cement is still being blamed for US cement shortages with Florida particulalrly hard hit. America imports about 20 percent of the cement used here, but Florida, the hottest building market in the nation, imports about 40 percent of its supplies. Florida’s demand for cement is high because building codes require concrete framing materials to protect against hurricane damage.  Before this year’s hurricanes, the NAHB said its survey of builders showed 41 percent of respondents citing cement shortages, a huge jump from May, when 11 percent of those polled reported problems, and from March, when only 3 percent of builders noted difficulties.  The Portland Cement Association, a trade group representing U.S. and Canadian companies, last month said that 29 states were experiencing shortages.

Cement manufacturers say the mild winter this year exacerbated their problems. Because builders kept building in the winter, cement plants didn’t have time to build inventories as they usually do.  "It’s almost impossible to get concrete," Potomac builder and remodeler John L. duFief said. "Where it used to take two days or a day to get an order in, it takes five days."  Because of the backlog for orders and problems getting cement shipments across country by rail, building contractors say they’re stretching their projected construction schedules.  Cement producers don’t see much hope for prices to drop or supplies to grow soon.

Dennis Skidmore, senior vice president of the St. Lawrence Cement Group, which has a large facility in Hagerstown, predicts the shortage will "worsen significantly this month and next because it’s the peak construction season, but all of us have zero inventory."