Touch Wood

The Touch Wood Sculpture Exhibition opened yesterday at the magnificent VanDusen Botanical Garden here in Vancouver. The idea of getting lost in a maze of trails encircling numerous lakes and ponds, carved into the lush grounds, seemed timely – a tranquil escape from turbulent markets. So upon leaving the office I picked up my two little daughters and off we went. With map in hand, we set out in the mist and fog in search of over two dozen sculptures and installations by 10 prominent B.C. artists – wooden treasures buried in secluded locations deep within the 22 hectare garden. Lauren and Evie also managed to find every single puddle along the way! I took the following photos of some of the wonderful works we saw – all made from salvaged, recycled, or scavenged wood; wood not converted to lumber – but beautiful art, which will forever hold its value…

Bottom of the third?

In an interview earlier this month with Bloomberg, West Fraser CFO Larry Hughes suggests part of the reason for the steep decline in lumber prices this year was that they rose too quickly late in 2012 and into the first quarter. He points out, in the full story here, that blogs about the lumber industry “were full of fear of (fibre) shortages” back in January.

More recently, discussion surrounding the scarcity of fibre supply has become more muted. And while the U.S. housing picture continues to look positive, the lumber market collapse this spring serves to remind it’s a global play now – as compared with years ago when it seemed all the analysis was predicated primarily on the U.S. housing market. When prices climb, lumber as a commodity finds extra supply available: mills reopen,  add shifts, build more mills, areas that were too remote to haul timber from become more economical etc etc.  .. And that’s just here in B.C.!

Still, the bullish headlines keep coming. For example, The Globe and Mail declares the lumber super cycle is now imminent (is it fair to characterize “by the end of 2014” imminent?). More than one forestry stock analyst has told us “If this is a baseball game, we’re in the third inning.” Traders certainly hope this is a game where the realities match the hype.


“Clean-up Blogger” – Little League at Trafalgar Park, Vancouver (197_?)

Builders’ Index Over 50

Eye on Housing

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market index passed the tipping point of 50 in June to top out at 52, the highest level since April 2006 and the largest monthly increase since 2002. The renewed confidence was spread across all three components, with the expectation for the next 6 months rising to 61, the highest in seven years.

The index compares the share of builders who believe the market is better with those who believe it is poor. The index flipping over 50 means builders seeing a better market outnumber those judging it as poor. In the 29 years of the HMI, it has been at 50 or more 58 percent of the time but for never longer than three years until this most recent seven year run below 50.

The causes are several. Builders are seeing more serious buyers, some coming from the existing home market because that…

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“Super Trees”


Click image to enlarge. Photo Credit: Michael Nichols (National Geographic Stock)

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charlie: In Search of America

Photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols describes how his team of researchers and technicians made a unique composite image of an entire redwood tree here. Lots of interesting redwood facts available at National Geographic here.

Won’t you stay a little longer?

In the face of low inventories and accelerating prices in many U.S. housing markets, there are reportedly growing concerns that “rich home buyers from abroad are crowding out American families”.  Of course this is a familiar theme here in Vancouver, home of Canada’s most expensive neighborhoods.  So I read with interest a post from a California-based reporter who notes (with raised eyebrows) several provisions within the massive U.S. immigration overhaul bill aimed not at easing, but attracting foreign home buyers.

In Canadian Home Buyers in America – from Saviours to Carpetbaggers? Erica Alini points to a clause that allows those 55+ who own or rent a home in the United States to stay there for up to eight months per year without a visa, rather than six, before losing non-resident status for tax purposes. And in what Alini describes as “a welcome treat for well-to-do Canuck pensioners”, the bill also introduces a special retiree visa for seniors who can make a cash purchase of a U.S. home worth US$500,000 or more. While the author acknowledges that investors – domestic and foreign – are a big reason why home prices rebounded in the first place, she concludes that if the grumblings about foreign buyers increase, these provisions could start to look like “a low hanging fruit fix”.