Market Milieu

Where, oh where has the market gone? This is the mournful lament intoned on lumber trading floors spooked well in advance of Hallowe’en this year.

Conditions testing the resilience of experienced traders are drawing comparisons with the global financial crisis and US housing market collapse of a decade ago. Today’s geopolitical landscape seems besieged with instability amid crises, including international trade concerns, rising interest rates, financial market volatility, and looming US elections.

Seasoned traders seek to offer reassurance and calm aimed at validating longstanding customer-supplier relationships. While financial analysts scramble to make sense of conditions in the face of seemingly disparate economic data, it seems timely to explore tips for dealing with the biggest lumber market meltdown in history.

Google has advice for handling times like these. One link offering “28 positive things you can do when business is slow” suggests a slow period is just another name for opportunity: “ask for help, take some down time, take a course, take up a hobby, network, develop new offerings, rethink your business model and processes, strengthen important relationships, write, teach, volunteer, exercise, study another industry.” Some guys have even been known to enthusiastically take up coaching – not one – but two girls’ soccer teams.

Another column suggested eating lots of leafy green vegetables to keep your cognitive abilities sharp and on high alert. Even so, we’re told Canada’s legalized cannabis should not be seen as a tool for alleviating anxiety in current market milieu.

Where, oh where has the market gone?
Like a saucer of yesterday’s beer.
I don’t wanna be short,
I don’t wanna be long,
In fact Duthie, I don’t even wanna be here.

– Ernie Harder, singing live at the 1995 British Columbia Wholesale Lumber Association Roast honoring Duthie Welsford, BCWLA Lumberman of the Year (recording below)

Market Ripe for Picking?

Is the lumber market ripe for picking? Who knows. Unfortunately this week’s picking readiness signalled by my backyard apple tree’s bumper crop offers little guidance. Unlike apples dropping from a tree, falling lumber prices can’t be sure of where ground level support intervenes.

Google offered up helpful information that prompted this week’s timing to invite friendly volunteers from the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society to come set up their step ladders:

Wait for a couple of apples to fall from the tree. Apple trees naturally drop their apples when they are ripe in order to self-seed and reproduce. Watch for an apple or two to drop from the tree to determine if they are ready to pick.

When your apples are ripe, they should be fairly easy to pick from the tree with a simple upward twist of the apple. Try to avoid picking an apple by pulling the fruit straight down and tugging.

If otherwise healthy fruits begin to fall off the tree, they are probably beginning to get a little too ripe and should probably be harvested as soon as possible.

Now if only Google could offer up unambiguous harvest-time signals for lumber inventory managers.

Nudity and Heat Waves

We’re in for a heat wave. Wildfires threaten our woods, with B.C. Interior areas contemplating evacuation alert notices. It’s a stress-inducing situation that has even lumber traders wondering how to keep cool. Uniting in nudity is suggested as a solution by some. We read of a Newcastle, UK based marketing company who once decided to have a naked Friday, “to boost team spirit and improve employee morale.” Business psychologist David Taylor called it “the most extreme technique” he’s ever used. After a week of counselling and office activities aimed at building courage, most of the co-workers agreed to strip down to work in the buff for a day in an effort to boost production (and probably for a chance to be on TV). The ‘naked event’ is said to have turned around the company’s fortunes.

We’re told that Canada’s first and largest legal, clothing-optional beach, Vancouver’s Wreck Beach, is so crowded this week, there’s a lot of jostling going on to find room to park your fanny pack. It’s reported that at Wreck Beach, named among the world’s top 10 nude beaches, the atmosphere is very stress free. “When you shed your clothes, you shed the stress. It also helps you keep cool”.  With lumber prices continuing to peel off this week, it may have some traders dedicated to serving supplier and customer needs from behind office desks wondering.

Family-friendly Porteau Cove Beach on Howe Sound – July 2018

Rooster Roast

A sell-out crowd which included numerous Westar alumni members was thoroughly entertained at the 38th Annual B.C. Wholesale Lumber Association Roast last evening in honour of 2018 Lumberman of the Year Rick Fortunaso, VP Sales & Marketing, Western Commodity and Specialty Lumber, Interfor. Before handing the mic to master roast host Jack Hetherington, BCWLA President Vince Bulic‘s opening remarks included presentation of an Inukshuk award to former president Chris Sainas, Dakeryn Industries for outstanding service and dedication to the association. The first and second roasters Pat Demens and Mike Thelen were very witty, ably warming up the crowd for much-hyped headliner Bill Rafter (2015 Lumberman of the Year). Rafter’s return to the ring, three years later to Vancouver’s Terminal City Club to turn the tables on the Rooster (see Rafters, Roosters, and Roasters), featured a hilarious recounting of a friendship spanning 50 years, enduring stories worthy of an original Netflix comedy series. After a classy rebuttal by Fortunaso in which he also recognized mentors throughout his career, Hetherington drew the festivities to a close noting its been said that “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Another magical roast to be sure.

Lumber Market Upset?

The tensions of upsets in World Cup soccer matches are enjoyable. Market corrections that create upsets and tension, not so much.

The market adage that “nothing goes up forever” is presently shaping harsh realities in lumber prices. After peaking at $583 June 5th, the Framing Lumber Composite Price in the June 19th Random Lengths Midweek Report softly logged in at $562. Lumber Futures down $120 since the May contract expired (HT: @LumberTrading). Buyers and sellers of wood are experiencing Isaac Newton’s 400 year-old law that “an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless an external force acts on it.” Traders may be wondering what external forces will come into play to reverse the market’s present downward motion. Will it be another summer of devastating wildfires? Curtailed production? Underlying strengths of construction activity? More transportation woes?

In the meantime, we’ll look forward to teeing it up with distinguished representatives from Canfor, Carrier, Conifex, Dunkley, Hampton, Interfor, Millar, Sinclar, and Teal-Jones – all joining local retailers and staff members here tomorrow – for the mighty Dakeryn Golf Tournament at Riverway Golf Course in Burnaby, BC.  — “FORE!!”

The sidewalks were deserted, the lobby was the same;
The place looked dark and dreary, except one window pane.
Behind it sat a weary man, his head held in his hand;
His face was steeped in anguish as he peered across the land.
He saw the blue Willamette that glimmered from afar,
But his mind was sorely burdened by an unsold transit car.

He snapped it up in early May when things were looking right,
And got the mill to ship it, but not without a fight.
It was a steal at seventy-two, his hopes were raised on high;
But lo when first he offered it, the dealers passed it by.
He shrugged and bade the railroad boys to slow her down a twist,
Then doubled up his efforts to get it off his list.

– Excerpt from “The Office Wholesaler
(Author unknown – can anyone identify? circa 197_?)
Hat Tip: Ian White, Dakeryn Industries

Looking for the Leaderboard with Glen Sawkins, Sales Manager, Dunkley Lumber Ltd. (21 June 2018)

Source: NAHB (June 21, 2018)

No Woodworking

Unfortunately our field trip for Thursday to Tupper Secondary for woodworking has been cancelled. The supplier for the wood has run out of supplies! So we will have to cancel. Thank you to all the parents who offered to take the time to drive us!
– Evie’s Grade One teacher (via email, May 23)

On the topic of dwindling fibre supply, it’s reported the B.C. Interior accounts for more than 90% of the province’s softwood lumber exports to the United States. So far this year, the significant decline in B.C. lumber shipments to the U.S. (down 20% in the first quarter according to the article) is widely attributed to transportation bottlenecks and export duties. However a bleak report here from The Globe & Mail this week serves as stark reminder to post-beetle, mega-fire, fibre scarcity realities – a land base “ravaged in turn by pests, fire and drought”.. a province with “barely enough timber now available to meet legal commitments to its major forest license holders”. After a recent fly over, B.C. Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson likened the Chilcotin Plateau, 60 kilometres west of Quesnel, to “a moonscape”. Never mind the missing trees; in some places we’re told, firestorms consumed even the soil.

In a report in February, the chief forester noted that the 2017 wildfires in B.C. affected over 1.2 million hectares, the largest impact on record (in about 100 years of record-keeping) for a single fire season. Most of that – about one million hectares – was in the Cariboo region. The fires consumed or damaged almost one-quarter of Quesnel’s timber supply. That is on top of the devastation wrought by the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic, and sustained drought conditions that had led to fire bans in April – remarkably early. “We just cringe now when we see lightning,” Quesnel Mayor Mr. Simpson said. Now, a growing fir beetle infestation that somehow eluded last year’s wildfires is putting the remaining timber supply at risk. “There isn’t a tree species or a plantation that isn’t under stress due to increasing maladaptation to the current climate,” Mr. Simpson said.
– The Globe and Mail (21 May, 2018)

Meanwhile, Random Lengths reports lumber output in B.C. was down almost 8% in February from the same month a year ago; through the first two months of 2018, production in B.C. was down over 3%. On the bright side, according to Random Lengths, late-shipping railcars are beginning to roll into destinations more readily – welcome short term relief no doubt for razor-thin inventories at distribution yards and North American dealers starved for wood.

Of course in the long run, a global market is in play to influence supply and pricing. When demand for lumber increases, prices climb. When production ramps up, the supply/demand balance swings the other way and prices come off. What happens when production can’t ramp up?

The lion’s share of increased North America lumber production will need to come from U.S. mills.
– Russ Taylor, Forest Economic Advisors (FEA) Canada (19 Jan 2018)

The U.S. labour force is the single biggest constraining factor in U.S. sawmill production.
-Paul Jannke, FEA (5 Apr 2018)

“Moonwalk” – Evie’s space-themed Sports Day last wk