After hitting a 20-year high in 2017 ($440 October 10), the Random Lengths Framing Lumber Composite Price has snowplowed even higher this winter, reaching $458 Friday. SPF 2×4 #2&Btr is $502, a record high. “Shaking their heads – some in near disbelief..” — that’s how Random Lengths describes ever-wary lumber traders in their Weekly Report on North American Forest Products Markets (19 Jan 2018).
Last week a good U.S. customer, in response to a partial quote, asked: “Where are they hiding all the wood?” I posed the question to Russ Taylor, Managing Director, Forest Economic Advisors Canada. Russ notes Canadian shipments are already limited by tightening timber harvests in the B.C. Interior and Quebec. And with Canadian softwood lumber exports further constrained by cross-border duties, FEA-Canada projects Canadian shipments to the U.S. to shrink even more, up to 7% through 2019. Russ confirmed the additional North American lumber production required to satisfy U.S. demand will need to come from U.S. mills. Russ considers projections for U.S. mill shipments to grow 15%, from 34.0 billion FBM in 2017 to over 39 billion FBM in 2019, “an aggressive target.”
When Russ then reiterated FEA-Canada’s most recent five-year outlook quoted below with permission, I was reminded of the comments John Innes, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry, UBC made back in 2012: “What people seem to forget – and I don’t really understand this – is that there was extra capacity created to process this lumber when the beetle reached its peak. Surely people then realized that this was a temporary thing; that it wasn’t going to last.” See: Firm Offers?
U.S. demand will be leaning more heavily on expansions in U.S. production and European lumber imports in the 2018-19 period. Production increases in the U.S. will be subject to many factors, including lumber prices, log supply and costs, financing, supply chain dynamics (including loggers and sawmill workers) etc. This means we could see varying supply responses in different regions of the U.S., and at different times.
As we have been forecasting for the last few years (and again this year), there does not seem to be nearly enough available softwood lumber capacity in North America to meet U.S. demand by the end of the decade. While the slower pace of housing starts has somewhat delayed any potential ‘supply gap’ in the last few years, the burden of import duties on Canadian lumber shipments to the U.S. has now exacerbated this situation (starting in 2017). We predict that incremental supplies of logs and lumber will be required each year, and that high lumber prices will result and attract more supply; in 2020 and beyond, there is strong potential for even higher lumber prices.
Breaking: SLB-funded initiatives generated 1.02 billion board feet of incremental softwood lumber demand in 2017.