Year-end Answers

As we approach year-end, you’ll recall 17 questions for 2017 we posed one year ago at Harderblog:

1. (See Question #1 from 2016)
Yes.

2. Will Trump really build a wall and have Mexico pay for it?
No. It’s reported the promised border wall amounts to eight prototypes sitting in a desert outside San Diego. Mexico hasn’t contributed a peso and no funding has been appropriated by Congress to advance the project beyond the testing phase.

3. Will the softwood lumber dispute have found a satisfactory resolution?
At the 2017 COFI Convention in Vancouver, David Emerson, B.C.’s Trade Envoy to the United States, described the ongoing softwood lumber dispute as “a mutating form of bacteria that has all but become antibiotic-resistant.” In the face of a dwindling resource and increasing demand for softwood worldwide, effective today the combined CVD/AD duty paid by most Canadian importers to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency will be 20.23%, calculated on the selling price.

4. Will anticipated countervailing duties on Canadian softwood lumber shipments to the U.S. be applied retroactively?
No. While the USDOC concluded in April that “critical circumstances” existed (justifying the charging of duties retroactively 90 days), by early December the USITC had announced a negative finding concerning critical circumstances.

5. Will Trump really pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement?
Yes.

6. In the face of “Fake News” and misinformation that poses distraction to sound decision formulation on many fronts, will lumber dealers lean more heavily than ever on trusted wholesale relationships to interpret market changes?
A poll of traders in Dakeryn’s office says “yes” to this question.

7. Will Trump really pull the U.S. out of the Iran Nuclear Deal?
No.

8. Will there be 100 million consumers shopping in augmented reality (AR) by the end of 2017?
Maybe not yet. However we’re told here “shoppers are beginning to give AR more attention, particularly when viewing function-driven, feature rich, high-consideration purchases such as furniture. Voice technology, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence are transforming the retail industry to make buying products quicker, easier and more enjoyable.”

9. Will a measure of sanity return to the Vancouver housing market?
No, although, as a major news story, rental-housing woes in Vancouver eclipsed angst over the climbing cost of homeownership. In 2017, it’s reported the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment listing in this city surpassed $2,000 per month.

10. Will the record number of homeless people identified in the City of Vancouver’s 2016 Homeless Count be broken again in 2017?
Yes. The record-breaking 2,138 homeless people counted in Vancouver this year is 291 more than the previous record of 1,847 homeless people counted in 2016. At 448, Aboriginal peoples are once again over-represented in the number of homeless people living in Vancouver.

11. Will tensions with China escalate over trade and Taiwan?
Trade issues loomed large on many fronts in 2017. The U.S. opting out of the Trans Pacific Partnership headlined trade-related news in Asia.

12. In light of increased hacking of connected products, will questions surrounding cybersecurity have become a make-or-break issue by the end of 2017?
Yes. In fact 2017 has been described as “the year of cybersecurity wake-up calls”. Recent examples show disturbing trends.

13. Is there any indication that by the end of 2017 a future of driverless transport trucks could promise enhanced just-in-time lumber deliveries?
See Corrections.

14. Will anybody care if the Vancouver Canucks fail to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Vancouver Canucks attendance figures are said to be the lowest since 2001.

15. Will BC Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal Party secure a fifth term in May?
No.

16. Will the global crises surrounding issues of displaced peoples/refugees have eased anywhere?
See: Why nothing will stop people from migrating.

17. Will general predictions forecasting a “bumpy ride” for 2017 come to fruition?
See: Are you day trading?

O Christmas Tree!

Festive holiday flavours don’t come unwrapped around our home until The Little Christmas Tree story is shared. You’ll recall, it’s about the little fir tree in the forest, wondering if it will be the one chosen to be someone’s special Christmas tree. Sadly, this year, the little tree, like so much of what’s shaping news, is getting caught up in politics. Is nothing sacred, we might ask? Through northwest breezes touching Chilliwack’s Vedder Mountain woods we heard the little tree’s plaintive sighs. “Leave me out of it, NAFTA” the tree uttered. “My dreams are about creating wonder, cupping candy canes for kids. Let me hear laughter, even for a little while. I don’t need to hear talk of threatened export duties on Christmas tree shipments from Oregon to Mexico. Tell me about a star on top, or.. maybe an angel. What’s the world coming to? Not so many of us are being primed and pruned these days. My market value is higher this year you say? So what? Something’s twisted when gauging my true value in dollars and cents. You’re missing the point. I have no crass commercial ambitions. If that were on my mind, I might have sought long term ambitions as some condo floor joist. For just a little while, let my branches share sounds of birds singing O Tannenbaum. Allow me a moment to wonder if this be the year when I’ll be the one selected to brighten a living room corner – I be the one bringing joy, even for a little while. This year will I be selected to be someone’s special Christmas tree?” the little fir tree ponderedThe season invites a pause even for lumber traders to ponder things priceless.
(HT: Ernie Harder)

Corrections

Markets have a way of redefining terms of the trade. Hot markets lend tolerance to ‘prompt shipment’. Market corrections, not so much. These days, ‘just in time delivery’ comes with caveats such as ‘subject to availability of trucks’. Market conditions present unique challenges to guarding supplier/customer relationships. Some have suggested that markets, like politics, frame questions of definition around who holds the power. In some instances, that is known to shape performance strategies in relation to commitment around short run versus long run considerations. It’s suggested that the transactional approach is not the most desirable for building enduring relationships among customers or voting constituents. A favourite response from one supplier known to be under pressure on late shipments: “In the end we’ll all get to heaven”. We’re in it for the long run, but we appreciate that even our most valued, understanding customers’ patience is stretched when lumber ready for delivery is awaiting wheels.

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Saint John, NB (20 Nov 2017)

 

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees (Guest Post)

I have to admit, I am not smart enough to totally understand all the concepts within the softwood lumber dispute. It is beyond me how a small group of people (U.S. Lumber Coalition) can continually try to hold a whole country hostage in spite of the fact that International Courts have proven them wrong time and time again.

It is also beyond me how the U.S. Department of Commerce can not only continue to support what seems to be a money grab but also seem to be able to differentiate the amount of alleged damage each company has contributed to the U.S. Lumber Coalition through mysterious, arbitrary numbers and selective testimony.

Be all that as it may, everyone both inside and outside of the industry understands that the only real damage being done is to the little guy. It is not a shock that this continued dispute only drives up the price of lumber to both U.S. and Canadian consumers and all the while the rich guys on both sides of the border get richer.

What my simple mind does find shocking is that with all the smart people involved in this process, nobody is talking about the “unintended” consequence of the anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD) as it is applied.

In March of this year, I had a long conversation with Wendy Frankel, Director, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Liaison Unit, International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). I took great pains to explain to her that by applying the AD/CVD on the selling (border) price, the DOC is actually subsidizing the U.S. Secondary Remanufacturers as opposed to creating a level playing field. Applying the AD/CVD to the first mill price would be far more appropriate as that is where the alleged damage exists and it would not affect the competitiveness of the secondary market. Ms Frankel was clear that subsidizing the U.S. remanners was not the intent and I will try to take her at her word.

The math is simple:
A Canadian independent remanner buys 2×8-20’ SPF on the open market from a mill in B.C. at $639/M delivered Vancouver. This remanner turns that wood into 2×8-20’ Fascia Combtex Prime and sells it to a U.S. customer for $1000/M. At the rates announced November 2nd in the final determination, the Canadian company will pay approximately $208/M in duties (calculation simplified for presentation) thus “grossing” $153/M before processing costs. A U.S. remanner buying the same lumber and selling to the same customer at the same price would pay $133/M in duties thus “grossing” $228/M before processing.

It seems undeniable to me that this significant difference is a clear subsidy.. a subsidy that would not exist if the duties were applied to the first mill price.

Since my conversation with Ms Frankel in March, I have approached fellow remanners (too expensive to fight), industry associations, and Government officials and nobody will take the time to have the conversation with me (although one individual did offer to meet me in the parking lot for suggesting he was not doing his job).

After all of that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Is this dispute legitimately about levelling the playing field – or just a recurring disguise for greed?
2. If somebody like me who admittedly is not the sharpest knife in the drawer can see this so clearly, why can’t the smart people?
3. Do the negotiators actually see the consequence – but both sides are holding ‘first mill’ as a negotiating point in spite of the fact that it was the basis of taxes in the previous agreement?
4. Do politicians just accept that there will be collateral damage in disputes like this and are willing to potentially sacrifice the small independent remanufacturers?
5. Am I missing something?

I guess only time will tell.

Roy Falletta, VP Finance & Administration
Dakeryn Group of Companies

Hijacking Lumber

It happened this week. A semi-trailer transporting product en route from Alberta to Dakeryn’s wood specialties manufacturing plant in Abbotsford, B.C. was hijacked. According to reports, the suspect faces a number of charges, including kidnapping and use of a firearm in the commission of an offence.

He came to my window (waving a handgun).. I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have had a problem shooting me to get out of there.. I was thinking as long as I was doing what he wanted and driving, he was no great threat to me – but it was a long three-hour drive to Kamloops.

Those are the words of one cool trucker, Robert Price. No doubt there will be a full investigation into the suspect’s motive. In the light of ongoing tragedies involving firearms, it seems insensitive to characterize the incident as anything other than another very serious situation. We couldn’t help wondering though, what would drive somebody to undertake such extreme measures aimed at securing Dakeryn’s lumber? And if the kidnapper had arrived at eventual destination, would our fine finished products have also become a subject of ransom? That question was reportedly in our truck driver’s mind too, when he wondered aloud: “How does this end?” Fortunately, the RCMP intervened at a truck stop 175 miles from our specialties plant and, from early reporting, their gunshots were aimed at the truck’s front tires.

Final AD/CVD Rates

Hard to rationalize. Where does the characterization of ‘dumping’ come in as a rationale in the prevailing supply-demand scenario?
Here is today’s report from Inside U.S. Trade’s World Trade Online (2 Nov 2017):

With the U.S. and Canada unable to reach a long-term settlement, the Commerce Department on Thursday announced affirmative final determinations in antidumping and countervailing duty investigations of softwood lumber imports from Canada.

The announcement prompted Canada to threaten litigation through the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization.

“While significant efforts were made by the United States and Canada, and the respective softwood lumber industries, to reach a long-term settlement to this on-going trade dispute, the parties were unable to agree upon terms that were mutually acceptable,” Commerce said in a statement. “As a result, the investigations were continued and Commerce reached its final determinations.”

Commerce said it determined that exporters from Canada have sold softwood lumber in the U.S. at 3.20 percent to 8.89 percent less than fair value. It also said Canada was providing unfair subsidies to its softwood lumber producers at rates from 3.34 percent to 18.19 percent.

The department will instruct Customs and Border Protection to collect cash deposits from lumber importers based on those final rates.

A fact sheet issued by the department noted that it found “critical circumstances” in the AD investigation for certain Canadian exporters but not others. “Consequently, Commerce will instruct CBP to impose provisional measures retroactively on entries of softwood lumber from Canada, effective 90 days prior to publication of the preliminary determination in the Federal Register, for the affected producers and exporters,” the fact sheet states.

It also notes that certain softwood lumber products “certified by the Atlantic Lumber Board (ALB) as being first produced in the Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, or Prince Edward Island (the Atlantic Provinces) from logs harvested in these three provinces should be excluded from the scope of the AD and CVD investigations.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that while he was “disappointed that a negotiated agreement could not be made between domestic and Canadian softwood producers, the United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada.” He said the U.S. decision was “based on a full and unbiased review of the facts in an open and transparent process that defends American workers and businesses from unfair trade practices.”

Ross had been negotiating with Canada in the hopes of reaching a suspension agreement and pushed the final determination deadline from late August to November.

“I remain hopeful that we can reach a negotiated solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties,” Ross said on Aug. 29, announcing the extension through Nov. 14, which he said “could provide the time needed to address the complex issues at hand and to reach an equitable and durable suspension agreement.”

But Ross in June received criticism from the U.S. lumber industry when he tried to negotiate with the Canadians because, sources said then, the positions he outlined ran counter to the longstanding U.S. demand for a quota-only approach and would therefore undermine the U.S. negotiating position.

One source told Inside U.S. Trade in June that Ross “would like to get it off the table one way or the other,” before NAFTA renegotiation talks began in August. But, the source said, “Ross doesn’t know how complicated this is.”

Industry and government sources claimed Ross’s department was lacking the expertise needed in dealing with the file and doubted that Ross would be able to reach an agreement before the final determinations were set to be made.

Softwood lumber from Canada were estimated to be worth $5.66 billion in 2016, Commerce said.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition, which kicked off the case in November 2016, lauded the Commerce determinations. “We are pleased the U.S. government is enforcing our trade laws so that the U.S. lumber industry can compete on a level playing field,” the group’s co-chair, Jason Brochu, said in a statement. “The massive subsidies the Canadian government provides to their lumber industries have caused real harm to U.S. producers and their workers. With a fair-trade environment, the U.S. industry, and the 350,000 hardworking men and women who support it, have the ability to grow production to meet much more of our country’s softwood lumber demand.”

Canada, meanwhile, blasted the move in a statement issued by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr.

“The Government of Canada will continue to vigorously defend our industry against protectionist trade measures,” they said, calling the duties “unfair, unwarranted and deeply troubling.”

“We will forcefully defend Canada’s softwood lumber industry, including through litigation, and we expect to prevail as we have in the past,” they added. “We are reviewing our options, including legal action through the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, and we will not delay in taking action.”

Carr and Freeland also said they would “continue to engage our American counterparts to encourage them to come to a durable negotiated agreement on softwood lumber.”

If the U.S. International Trade Commission makes affirmative final injury determinations in the softwood lumber case, Commerce said, the department will issue AD and CVD orders. A negative final injury determination will terminate the investigation with no duties assessed.

The ITC is set to make its final determinations by Dec. 18

Gig Economy

Who knew? A recent study predicted that by 2020, 40 per cent of American workers would be independent contractors. We’re told the switch to gig work is first and foremost about employers moving to what is efficient for them. Here in Canada, 85 per cent of companies recently surveyed figured they will increasingly move to an “agile workforce” over the next few years. It’s part of a “gig economy”.

The “gig economy” is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organizations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. For lumber types, this may conjure images of portable sawmills and seasonal workers in the woods. For some lumber traders, the concept smacks of impermanence and flies in the face of marketing effectiveness that pays homage to building longterm relationships. Even so, the gig economy finds shared identity in today’s world of transactional strategies and realpolitik.

 

~Tricks and Treats~

The coldest air of the season is flowing into Western Canada today, but a beautiful starry night’s in store for Vancouver this evening. At our house, pretty sure we’ve managed to turn our pumpkin inventory 8 times since Labour Day. A quick check of the 25 Horribly Inappropriate Halloween Costumes for Kids confirms Dorothy, Toto, and this Dad are all good to go. Happy Halloween!

Bigfoot Blame

Clearcut logging in BC’s Bigfoot country is the latest explanation ascribed to trackers’ inability to pin down sasquatch in the woods. According to reports in today’s Vancouver Sun, a sasquatch tracker out of Golden, BC aims to take the provincial government to court to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt (or a guy in a gorilla suit) that the legendary creature roams the BC wilderness.

In a civil lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court on Monday, it’s reported the BC Ministry of Environment and BC Fish and Wildlife Branch is charged with “dereliction of duty pertaining to the interests of an indigenous wildlife species.” The plaintiff suggests that logging played a role in disappearance of the hairy beast’s natural habitat. Some wonder if impending Halloween tricksters might scare the creature into view. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, for traders returning from back-to-back Forest Products Conferences in the Northeast this week, sometime seemingly invisible realities shaping lumber markets may be coming into view. When the busy LBM Advantage show concluded Tuesday in Baltimore, vendors boarded rail cars for Philly to attend a jampacked LMC Expo Wednesday and Thursday. Key takeaways from the Dakeryn tabletop visits? The market’s hot and the supply chain is fractured. No Halloween costumes can disguise it. Moreover, rumours are swirling the duty timeline is aggressively moving up. Traders wonder if countervailing duties on cross-border shipments will now be in effect as soon as mid-November. In midst of the unprecedented wildfire season in BC, could free-of-char (FOC) lumber be tax-exempt? While perception among some US lumber retailers suggests that duties are beneficial to their bottom line, at least one major dealer struggling for supply described the ongoing softwood lumber dispute as “bizarre”.

Breakfast of Champions

Pure gold. That’s how Ryan Holmes describes customer feedback.

In 2008 at their Vancouver headquarters, Holmes created Hootsuite, the world’s most widely-used social media management platform. He writes here in the Financial Post that while the majority of Hootsuite’s 15 million users pay absolutely nothing, “they mean everything.” Why? Because free users stress-test the company’s platform every day, discovering flaws and demanding new features. The constant feedback these users tweet provide enables Hootsuite to continuously refine their product before focus shifts to landing big clients who pay.

According to Holmes, the best market disrupters learn to listen very closely to their initial users. “Because the barrier to entry is so low.. the only thing keeping (users) tied to the product is its innate usefulness,” says Holmes. Today, we’re told that big paying customers now form the heart of Hootsuite’s market. But Homes argues Hootsuite’s strongest competitive advantage remains the millions of free users endlessly stress-testing the company’s platform every day. At the core of Hootsuite’s business, there rests an underlying acknowledgement of the importance and potential for social media to foster customer feedback in developing customer-supplier relationships.

It’s easy, even inevitable, for the pendulum to swing too far, however. The scrappy upstart becomes the industry leader. Instead of catering to end users, attention shifts to landing those huge deals. There is an antidote, of course – staying obsessed with the free users. Google, not surprisingly, is a master at this. Today, Gmail’s billion-plus monthly active users dwarf the three million businesses who pay for G Suite. That won’t change anytime soon. But having a focus group that large ensures Google is always miles ahead of its competitors.
– Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite CEO

AAC Reduced in PG

The announcement of a 33 per cent reduction in the annual allowable cut (AAC) in the Prince George Timber Supply Area is no surprise. Back in 2011, the AAC in Prince George was temporarily elevated for salvage-logging operations. Five years later, at the 2016 COFI Convention, Tim Sheldan, Deputy Minister, B.C. Ministry of Forests confirmed that “most of the economically harvestable beetle-killed timber has been harvested.”

According to the news release, the measurable real impact on economic activity is expected to be less significant in consideration of average timber harvests in recent years. The effective cut reduction is 8 per cent. Even so, industry observers and lumber traders could rightly be wondering about longer term implications for markets, domestic and foreign, at the same time as trade issues remain unsettled.

There’s no doubt we’re coming closer and closer to the point where the cuts will be reduced. There will be less timber.
– Dave Peterson, B.C. Chief Forester (21 Nov. 2014)
See: Beetle Boundaries

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