Overall, the U.S. economy experienced solid growth during 2004, fueled by the continued strength of the housing market (Table 2 and Charts A, B and C). The gross national product (GNP) increased by 4 percent during the year, while industrial production increased by 4.4 percent. The national unemployment rate for the year was only 5.4 percent, while 2.23 million new jobs were added.
Despite the solid overall performance of the U.S. economy recently, there are several areas of concern, primarily the weakness of the dollar versus other currency, especially the euro, as well as increased manufacturing costs.
In order to understand the present and future trends in the ceramic tile industry, it is important to understand historic trends that have shaped today's business environment and will continue to influence it in the future. Although economic shifts take place every year, when viewed over the long term, larger patterns emerge among these shifts. For example, during the three-decade period from 1975 to 2004, many significant trends emerged that are still affecting the industry today.