Looking up at the future..

Speaking to the prestigious TED 2013 Conference yesterday, Vancouver architect Michael Green asked the question:  “Why are buildings made of wood only a few stories high when trees found in nature are remarkable for their height?”

Green also introduced reference to sustainability forestry, sharing that enough wood is grown in North America every 13 minutes for a 20 storey building. From a summary of his talk here at Ted Blog: “Building codes currently limit wood buildings to four stories high. And this needs to change, says Green. He proposes that we build skyscrapers out of wood. For the last century, tall buildings have been crafted of steel and concrete — but the green house gas emissions of these materials are huge. As Green notes, 3% of the world’s energy goes into the making of steel and 5% goes into the making of concrete. While most people think of transportation as the main villain when it comes to CO2 emissions, building is actually the true top offender — accounting for 47% of CO2 emissions. Wood, on the other hand, grows by the power of sun, giving off oxygen and storing carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide is released when the tree falls and decomposes. By building with wood, we could sequester carbon dioxide. Green says that building with one cubic meter of wood stores one ton of CO2.”

“We have an ethic that the earth grows our food,” says Green. “We should move toward an ethic that the earth should grow our homes.”

Locally, the impact of changes in the B.C. Building Code is reflected in a five-storey wood-frame going up in Chilliwack, B.C.

Another fascinating presentation yesterday at the TED Conference was delivered by Alastair Parius, who introduced the revolutionary idea of DIY house building. He talked about availability of “open-source hardware” –  an open-source constructive system where anyone can go on-line and access a freely shared library of 3D models of houses. He claims:  “It’s simple. You can download plans to Sketchup and print out parts for a house. The parts are numbered. No bolts required. Essentially it’s a really really big IKEA set – to build a house.”  He states that “without traditional construction skills an amateur can build a small house in a day.”  ..Hmm… Some might think about that, right after getting the boxed barbecue assembled this spring.

TED is described at Ted.com as “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started  in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, Design.” TED convenes two annual conferences – one on the west coast of North America and one in Edinburgh, UK.  Next year the North American TED Conference moves to Vancouver, B.C. The two annual conferences bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less.


Heading off for that weekly guy-thing stop-in at the local lumber yard just got more inviting at Vashon’s Island Lumber in neighboring Washington State. According to the local paper here, it was at some customers’ suggestion that owner Earl VanBuskirk added spirits to the inventory mix in combination with his store’s recent expansion. With the recent passage of a local initiative, any retail space 10,000 square feet in size or larger can also offer beer and wine along with the tubafour.

It’s not immediately known whether the move will entice other local businesses to expand. For now, Vashon’s two neighboring grocery stores are expected to monitor Island Lumber’s parking lot during happy hour, before deciding on expansion of their own facilities and product line.

The Turning Point

Mark Kennedy, CIBC World Markets, sent a link to the two year lumber futures chart shown at bottom (click for larger size, image source here).
He notes that October, 2011 represents “the turning point” – the month U.S. homebuilders began their run. Adds Mark, “What I like best about this chart is that since Oct 2011, while we have seen ups and downs in the lumber futures price, each pullback has been a higher low, for fourteen consecutive months now. Not sure if there is any technical significance to this, but to me it reflects the improving fundamentals of this market.”

In our chat this morning, Mark also pointed to a very interesting article here at NewsObserver.com. The author examines the business model of American Homes 4 Rent. The story of institutional investors buying up distressed U.S. properties might be considered old news, but this billionaire’s “portfolio” includes plenty of brand new homes bought direct from homebuilders.

“A lot of the distressed properties have been bought up … that whole shadow inventory is starting to fade fast. It leaves these investors aiming at … alternative ways to get product that still meets, or is close to meeting, their profile.” – Jack Rostetter, H&H Homes

Feb 26 futures chart 3


I’ve learned that the hardest people to convince that they’re ready to retire are our two little girls at bedtime. That’s probably not big news. But when the gentleman whom I sold my first ever truckload of lumber to calls it a day without fanfare or public notice, it’s news around here.
Frank Armstrong at Doyle Lumber Company in Andover, Massachusetts, was a phone favorite for twenty years. He taught me to keep in mind this business is as much about making a life as making a living. In wishing Frank best wishes in his unannounced retirement last week, we trust he’ll quickly adapt to new-found challenge of having to drink coffee on his own time. Though one retired lumberman recently told me that side effects of caffeine in retirement can become more pronounced, even replacing lumber as the interrupter of slumber.

A Taiga Reunion..

It’s said that nostalgia is remembering the pleasures of sitting in front of a big fireplace – without remembering you had to cut the wood for it… or, in the case of a Taiga lumber traders’ reunion, deleting recollection of wood markets that were not always in upswing mode. Last night though, the reunion at Burnaby Earl’s on Kingsway Lougheed afforded fun reconnections among many distinguished guests, including retired Taiga VP Doug Butterworth and Northeast celebrity Bob Leffler – among the mentors for many of my 18 years ‘cutting wood’ at Taiga.

While many of the original trading floor have dispersed like sawdust in the wind, the convivialities of reunion demonstrated as much about old jokes being mostly dismembered than remembered. More than a few showed at least three signs of being a bit older. First, was their loss of memory about the time when… and, I can’t remember the other two.

Promotions Promotions!

customLogoThe 2013 B.C. Wholesale Lumber Association’s Annual General Meeting was held February 7th at the Delta Burnaby Hotel.
The culmination of a grueling campaign season this election year, the AGM was a highly anticipated event. In a decisive victory, we’re pleased to announce that Chris Sainas of Dakeryn Industries was elected President.
With roots going back to 1946, the BCWLA’s function “is to represent the interests of lumber wholesalers in British Columbia and to promote high standards of business conduct and integrity in the lumber wholesaling industry.” Annual association events include the prestigious Lumberman of The Year Roast in June, the BCWLA Golf Tournament, and Challenger Baseball (“Night at the Nat”). Dakeryn Industries continues to be a strong supporter of the BCWLA, underscoring the value and appreciation for the full-service wholesaler in ever-changing dynamics of global markets. Good luck Chris!


.. with BCWLA President Chris Sainas (2-20-13)

Logging Indicators – China

It’s no secret log exports around the world have been surging primarily due to demand in Asia. Now the data is in. China’s log imports were up a whopping 45.6% last month compared to January 2012. China imported 3,390,000 m3 of logs in January at an average price of $194 per m3. In January 2012, log imports were 2,390,000 m3.
China’s lumber imports were also up significantly YOY last month. China imported 1,750,000 m3 of lumber in January, a 54.9% increase over January 2012 (1,130,000 m3). The average cost of lumber was $275 per m3.

Source: CIBC World Markets

logging truck-001

“Fair Value”

A report today at The Financial Times puts some perspective on where things are at in the U.S. housing recovery. While noting the significant role of financial investors in driving house price gains to date, the authors declare prices “are at something like fair value” now.
Among other market watchers quoted in the piece, Robert Shiller is consulted. When Shiller speaks, people listen – thanks in large part to his warnings of the U.S. housing market bubble long before it burst. Shiller continues to bring an intriguing air of caution to excited media circles surrounding recovery expectations. “There’s no good way to define fair value for houses” says Shiller, while adding: “With prices about right relative to history, there is no reason to expect big moves up and down over the next decade or two.”
The article, linked below as a PDF file, features several success stories in midst of the market crash; one Florida homebuilder, on the brink of bankruptcy, adapted to change with dramatic results.

“The Greens bought a foreclosed house for about $31,000. They renovated it, rented it out – and discovered a successful new business model. Today they own 76 homes, most of them painted with a signature blue front door.”

Housing_ The long climb back – FT

International Transportation

When the lumber industry examined certain overseas markets it found that there were areas where the brick industry enjoyed a competitive advantage in transportation costs. Meanwhile, local truck loggers are reportedly exploring some of these overseas strategies to see how they might be adapted in efforts aimed at lowering costs here, and reversing pattern of shipping jobs overseas.


A local blogger sparked a social media frenzy this week after first uncovering, then perfectly presenting, a case of “media manipulation” on two local TV newscasts. He broke the story that with cameras rolling, a local real estate company had two employees pose as prospective Chinese home buyers – at their own condo development. CBC and CTV were duped in the pitch aimed at goosing a spike in interest from Mainland China around the Lunar New Year. The company’s initial apology “for any misunderstanding this may have resulted in” likely only fanned the flames. By yesterday afternoon, the story had gone mainstream – see here, here, and here. We’re told the Real Estate Council of B.C. will be investigating the matter, as some wonder if a media manipulation trend is emerging. CTV News addressed the situation last night: