Breaking up is hard to do. Certain market segment’s love affair with record high lumber prices appears to be over.
Image Source: finfiz.com
Breaking up is hard to do. Certain market segment’s love affair with record high lumber prices appears to be over.
Image Source: finfiz.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
Harderblog recently caught up with reload operator extraordinaire Guillaume Pelletier, Vice President, RCP Transit Inc.
Dakeryn Industries has enjoyed a strong working partnership with RCP Transit since 1995.
1) How have Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) impacted truck capacity at RCP Transit?
Right now, we’re handling the same volume as we were doing before the ELD – but differently. Drivers can’t lose time anywhere, they’re running like crazy! As soon as they move the truck, the clock starts; they have 14 hours to complete their day (11 hours of driving + three hours work/on-duty). It’s changing the way they’re driving.
2) Changing in what ways?
Before ELD, drivers could stop to eat, take a shower, do maintenance – now they need to sleep 10 hours in a row! I never sleep 10 hours! I used to have 9 out of 10 drivers sleeping in their truck – now I have three out of 12. And we need to pay extra. Truckers are leaving the reload earlier in the morning, deliver by noon, p-up their log and come back home by 17:00/18:00. My mechanic needs to work overnight or on the weekend. I need more trailers since we don’t have anyone to load at night anymore. I had to hire an extra local driver only to deliver all the back hauls. It’s costing big money.
3) In the face of the ELD mandate, what is RCP Transit doing to be a “U.S. truck shipper of choice”?
We have changed the way we dispatch – it’s hard to explain. Overall, improved communication with customers. Our hours of service for truckers have been fully optimized. It’s more work on the dispatch side, but we have good partnerships in place.
4) How about freight rates?
We’ve been running with the same freight rates out of both our reload locations in Coaticook, Quebec and Island Pond, Vermont, for almost five years. But last week we announced higher freight rates effective June 1st. We probably should have increased rates six months ago, but our goal was to run with the existing rates at least through Q1 to accurately determine what was needed. We want to stay as competitive as possible to continue to grow the business – but waiting until now to raise rates has cost us significantly more then I was expecting! With our trucking company, we were probably short $80,000 for the first three months of the year. We were expecting to handle 20% less loads per week, but that never happened. So we’re handling the same number of loads, but driver salaries are up 20%, our insurance costs are up 30%, and fuel is going totally crazy! Unfortunately those expenses are out of our control.
5) Any shipping relief in sight?
There are fewer truck drivers every year. People are desperate for trucks! Right now there is such a shortage of trucks, people are calling us non-stop everyday. You wouldn’t believe it! We cover one out of every five loads we’re offered. It’s not easy refusing business everyday. The worst part is I am losing my broker. And prices continue to climb. For example, Montreal to Plainfield, CT a truckload of steel pays around $2000.00. How can we compete with that?
Related: America doesn’t have enough truckers
Another sell-out crowd packed The Vancouver Club’s Grand Ballroom yesterday afternoon for the annual North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) Regional Meeting. Vancouver’s Lumber Marketing Event of the Year also celebrated NAWLA’s 125th year “dedicated to growing and nurturing every aspect of the lumber industry.” NAWLA’s Executive Director Marc Saracco opened the meeting. Presentations by three featured speakers were all very well-received:
Jennifer Cover, Executive Director, WoodWorks USA – Wood Products Council
Russ Taylor, Managing Director – Forest Economic Advisors (FEA) Canada
Derek Orr, Business Development Manager, Carrier Lumber Ltd
Thanks to Tree Frog News for the following images posted with permission.
Studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve mental and physical health. According to the Richmond News (see article here), Ken Ouendag experienced the healing power of nature firsthand and wants to help others through the work as Vancouver’s first certified forest therapy guide. Ouendag says: “I’ve always believed there’s so much good in spending time in nature and so often I’ve kind of questioned why.”
It got us thinking that the adage of “What’s in a name?” might have relevance for lumber traders. Could lumber distributors’ service to mills and retailers be enhanced by reconstituting the function, at least in name, from full-service lumber wholesalers/lumber traders, to freshly-minted lumber sales therapist? Could the reshaping of therapeutic images of walks in the woods and precursored connections of all things wood tied to forest antecedents add value as lumber sales therapists. Could it add a dimension of stability and healing to frantic trading environment for 2×10? Or, at least, ease the pain for buyers – lending comfort in times of unseasonably strong markets amid concerns about duties and constrained fibre supply.
Studies have shown that volatile lumber markets can induce stress. Does this not summon up recognition of inherent value of lumber’s roots in the forest’s calming and healing qualities? Can we not recognize therein the lumber trader’s transcendental potential as sales therapist? Some say it summons up the poetry inherent in the trade. Think of Robert Frost conjuring overbloated inventory of 2×10 back to the product’s time as a tree; of the missed phone call not heard if it rings in the forest. Remember the soothing call of “Timberrrr!” in the woods, enduring storms of nature, strong – calming, albeit bold as an Emily Carr painting. Summon the poetry in the perfect sales presentation that finds expression for a ‘win-win’ characterization in its perfection. Any lumber sales therapist up to speed in current tools of the trade still finds power in Robert Frost’s Two Roads that diverged in the woods, even as he ponders over the one not taken.
As certified forest therapy guide, Ouendag engages in specific practices declaring that walks in the woods help people practice mindfulness through sensory awareness facilitated by various activitities. “The first one we tend to do is called ‘what’s in motion?” It’s inviting you to walk very slowly and to take note of what’s in motion around you. “When people do start slowing down they start noticing cobwebs that are blowing in the breeze or a salmonberry bush where the leaves are blowing slightly.”
The lumber sales therapist might expand on these exercises aimed at countering inaction or lack of motion, as in when market activity dies, and sense of panic ensues, triggering propensities for onset of early happy hour. Relax, take a deep breath, envision a salmonberry bush – make reaching for a cold one a cold call instead.
Another exercise Ouendag suggests as forestry threrapist is called a “sit spot” which involves finding a space and sitting there for 15 to 20 minutes. It encourages people dealing with grief to “sit with themselves and feel supported by the nature around them.” The equivalent exercise for the lumber sales therapist for assuaging late shipment anxiety might recommend accessing nearest trading room exit, in search of a quiet brooding spot outdoors (in nature) for tearfully cursing CN Rail. Ouendag says the sit spot exercise he employs as forest guide therapist is similar to the corpse pose in a yoga session and is followed by a tea ceremony.
The lumber sales therapist seeks to enhance and heighten sense of well-being by imposing woods-imbued virtual imaging, while avoiding cable news.
The redefined lumber sales therapist’s role recasts the essence of selling and buying as a spiritual experience with mind-altering techniques aimed at reinforcing 2×10’s recently held association with nature. It’s well known that some have miscast lumber trading as a religious experience, by brushing off late shipments, citing unhelpful comments such as “Not to worry, In the end we’ll all get to heaven”. For starters though, it may all come back to what’s in a name. Some contend that a name means everything. There’s a saying that “What you call a boat determines how it will sail.” William Shakespeare said that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Against the backdrop of news story morphing wilderness guiding into ‘certified forest therapy guide’, it’s perhaps not a stretch for creatively adaptive lumber traders to envision enhanced service opportunity in rebranded role as lumber sales therapists.
Its been said that there is power in staying connected to other people in your industry. My fifth consecutive B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI) Convention, held in Prince George last week, provided again opportunity to return with ideas to sharpen skills and stay abreast of a rapidly-changing lumbering landscape. The listed takeaways include a surprise at how few marketing and sales types were among more than 550 delegates who packed the Prince George Civic Centre for agenda presentations:
-The prevailing politically-charged environment these days seemed to shape tempered viewpoints from panelists on several fronts. Folks looking for Interfor President & CEO Duncan Davies to deliver pertinent softwood lumber dispute insights were disappointed. His confirmation lauding the work the Softwood Lumber Board is doing to grow softwood lumber demand did not excite. Fortunately a pointed question from the audience, asking why Canadian producers would support the SLB when a number of U.S. members are working to constrain market access, elicited topical response: “The tariffs are wrong. Whether or not the economy is helping to soften the blow, the tariffs should not be there. Inspite of trade matters, we need to continue to invest in our biggest market.” From West Fraser President & CEO Ted Seraphim: “Today, we’re not worried about the softwood lumber dispute. But if the market were weaker, we’d all be worrying about it. So we need to grow demand.”
-While there wasn’t a panel discussion dedicated to timely transportation concerns, Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau addressed the situation. He said CN and CP need to do better. He pointed to Bill C-49 (Transportation Modernization Act) but his reporting an improvement in railcar capacity for grain fell flat among an audience concerned with lumber shipments. From Beth MacNeil, Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Forest Service: “Without infrastructure, there is no trade.”
–Jock Finlayson, Business Council of B.C., talked about the uncertain, shifting economic landscape in this province. He referenced the impact of uncertainty on investor confidence and how Canada is lagging in healthy capital formation. He sees little upside in residential construction in Canada, while pointing to “fundamental organic demand for housing growth” in the U.S. 30-39 age group. He suggested recent fiscal stimulus in the U.S. is unnecessary and poorly timed. Presently 300,000-400,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. are unfilled.
-According to Paul Jannke, Forest Economic Advisors (FEA), the U.S. labour force is the single biggest constraining factor in U.S. sawmill production.
-It was refreshing to hear from B.C.’s new Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson, but otherwise nothing noteworthy recorded.
-An excellent presentation by Kevin Pankratz, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing, Canfor addressed export markets and the global outlook. Interesting to learn that the R&R market is bigger than new home construction. Expansive growth in hybrid construction, off-site construction, and building automation in all markets reported. “Governments everywhere will increase focus on green building initiatives to meet emission targets.”
-Most edgy presentation (“Fibre Supply – It Is What We Make It”) goes to Diane Nicholls, now two years into her job as B.C.’s Chief Forester. In the aftermath of the Mountain Pine Beetle, she seemingly referees the constant fight for access to quality fibre, further complicated by the Spruce Beetle presently eating into the midterm timber supply.
-The Forestry Jobs for Today and Tomorrow panel might have been one of the highlights. Best moderator of the convention goes to Sandy Ferguson, VP Corporate Development, Conifex. It was interesting to hear industry (Canfor/Interfor/Tolko/West Fraser) is working to rejuvenate parts of the BCIT Wood Products Manufacturing Program I graduated from, which has been dormant since 2003. From Kara Biles, Manager Learning & Talent, Canfor: “Aggressively advocate for diversity and inclusion in your company; diversity is a competitive differentiator shifting market share toward more diverse companies.” Derek Orr, Business Development Manager, Carrier provided update on planning underway for a Ranger Program aimed at development/training of Aboriginal youth. Lots of sponsor traction for the program including Carrier, Dunkley, Conifex, West Fraser, and Canfor.
–Premier John Horgan seemed pleasantly surprised with the warm welcome before delivering his keynote speech Friday morning: “Thank you for clapping.” He deftly navigated the politically-charged minefield.
At first glance, the 2018 COFI Convention struck me as perhaps being lighter on content in comparison with past years. However, on second glance, it was rich in both content and opportunity, with plenty to digest. As one among four delegates from Dakeryn Industries, I again return from this convention with new and enlightening ideas. For us all, it was a worthwhile time to ‘sharpen our saws’.