20 Questions for 2020

Here are 20 questions that Harderblog will be watching this year, in search of answers:

    1. Will billionaire Jimmy Pattison succeed in taking Canfor private before his 92nd birthday on October 1, 2020?
    2. Will volumes of reduced fibre made available to sawmills from BC woodlands be outstripped by fibre consumed in Shredded Wheat?
    3. In this age of emerging technology, will tech gadgets surface that invite even lumber traders to investigate their perceived practical value?
    4. Will the US standoff with North Korea find resolution before the Softwood Lumber Dispute between Canada and the US?
    5. Will the financial bull markets of the last decade continue to roar in 2020?
    6. Will economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots show signs of narrowing?
    7. Will a recovery in lumber prices postpone more production curtailments and permanent sawmill closures in BC?
    8. Seedlings for forest revitalization in BC are forecast to rise from 270 million seedlings in 2019 to a record 310 million in 2020. How many trees will be planted?
    9. As the market for sustainable mass timber construction grows, how many more cross-laminated timber (CLT) plants will open in North America this year?
    10. Will shipment volumes of European lumber flood the Northeast US market as some analysts project?
    11. Is integrity still considered to be the core quality in evaluating services delivered by lumber wholesalers?
    12. Will the Broadway revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman later this year reprise its Tony winning best musical of 1957, when it enjoyed a run of 1375 performances?
    13. Will Home Depot succeed in reducing the rise in millions of dollars worth of goods stolen from the chain by organized criminals?
    14. In overtaking Toronto as the most expensive city in Canada, will Vancouver maintain that position in 2020?
    15. Will an old growth protection strategy be established in BC?
    16. Will there be significant evidence of steps being taken to counter negatives impacting climate change?
    17. Will there be a cooling in the ideological struggle that exploded in Hong Kong in 2019 between Hong Kong rule of law and Beijing rule of law?
    18. Will clues of democracy giving way to authoritarian governments become more pronounced in 2020?
    19. Will John Bolton publish a book that contains information deemed to include “explosive, new revelations”?
    20. Is Donald J. Trump still president at the end of 2020?

Year-end Answers

As we approach year-end, you’ll recall 19 questions for 2019 we posed one year ago at Harderblog:

1. Will the railways be better prepared for winter weather conditions?
If lumber prices are any gauge, yes. In 2018, extreme cold temperatures in Q1 severely reduced rail capacity, driving lumber prices to all-time highs in Q2, 2018. In Q1 2019, comparatively muted lumber prices suggest overall network capacity improved.

2. Will the extreme price volatility in lumber markets this year persist in 2019?
No. In 2018, the Random Lengths Framing Lumber Composite Price peaked at $583 (June 5) before shedding a whopping $245 over four expensive months riddled with false starts, before finally bottoming at $338 Oct 30. In sharp contrast, this year the gap between the composite high ($378 in Feb) and low ($320 in June) was narrow. The composite currently sits at $373. Random Lengths recently described lumber markets through much of 2019 as “challenging and fickle” (Dec 20).

3. Will Justin Trudeau still be Canada’s prime minister after Canada’s federal election scheduled on or before October 21, 2019?
Yes, barely. Canada’s Liberal party under Justin Trudeau’s leadership won 157 seats to form a minority government and lost the majority they had won in the 2015 election. Trudeau’s Liberals formed a government while receiving less than 35 per cent of the national popular vote, the lowest percentage of the national popular vote of a governing party in Canadian history. The Conservative Party remains the official opposition with 121 seats. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats. The New Democratic Party won 24 seats.

4. Will Donald Trump still be America’s president by the same date?
Yes.

5. Will Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden emerge as the leading Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 by the end of 2019?
Beto bid the race bye bye November 1 while polls still consider Biden the nervous front runner.

6. Will the 12 months of 2019 provide conclusive evidence that trade wars are “easy to win”?
Au contraire! Ongoing reporting reaffirms damaging, costly, induced complexities in play. While baby steps on resolving trade issues are reported, what’s been described by year end as a cold war on trade with China is evidence that “trade wars are not easy to win”.

7. Will noise about the border wall on the U.S. southern border have lessened by the end of 2019?
Yes, at least based on news reports beamed north of the 49th. Or, perhaps it’s simply being drowned out by ongoing competitive, attention-seeking noises spurred on by politics.

8. Will progress be reported in solutions for solving the opioid epidemic?
A US Center for Disease Control (CDC) spokesperson said provisional data and other reports signify that “progress is being made” in the opioid epidemic. According to the agency, the turnaround is said to be due to multisector efforts at the federal, state, and local level. USA Today reports progress here in the form of awareness. In BC, it’s reported here that through the first eight months of 2019, there was a 33% decrease in illicit drug toxicity deaths over the same eight-month period in 2018 (690 vs 1,037). Fentanyl was detected in more than 85% of overdose deaths in BC in 2018 and 2019. 

9. The American Psychiatric Association says anxiety levels jumped 7 per cent from 2017 to 2018. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among the American general population?
No. For the second year in a row, about two in three Americans say they are extremely or somewhat anxious about keeping themselves and their family safe, paying bills, and their health, according to a new national poll here by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

10. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among continent-wide lumber distributors?
A survey of at least one lumber distributor’s office personnel revealed that lumber traders’ cheerful, positive disposition has been subjected to anxiety levels at least comparable to the stresses of a year ago.

11. Will Canadian softwood lumber exports to China (dropping each year since 2014) continue to decline?
Yes. In discussions last week with Russ Taylor, Managing Director, FEA Canada, he reported while exports to China were up 5.7% in the first nine months of 2019 YOY, shipments slowed down significantly in Q2 and Q3 due to high inventories. Taylor projects Q4 shipments in 2019 to be off roughly 50% YOY, resulting in a 5-10% decline overall this year. “For 2020, I see further declines in Canadian softwood lumber exports to China. Not only are there reduced volumes of low grades from BC, the huge surge in European log exports from the massive salvage program (wind-damaged and beetle-killed) to China (about 6.5 million m3 expected in 2019 vs 1.5 million m3 in 2018) is expected to saturate the construction lumber market by lumber produced at domestic Chinese mills. Not only will this depress construction (low grade) lumber prices, the huge volumes of damaged European logs will also keep imported log prices at low levels. Already the BC Coast logging industry is shut down for cost and market reasons – the market reasons are the surge in European log shipments to China that have pushed higher priced (and costed) hemlock logs out of the China market.”

12. Will an old-growth protection strategy be established in B.C.?
Maybe next year. According to a BC government report Oct 23, “As part of government’s new approach to managing old growth in British Columbia, a two-person, independent panel is engaging British Columbians to get input and hear perspectives on managing the province’s old growth forests for ecological, economic, and cultural values.” In July, the government protected 54 old growth trees by placing a meagre buffer zone around each of them. The action, considered to be more symbolic than symbiotic here, was described by BC Forests Minister Doug Donaldson as “the first step in a broader old-growth plan.” The public, organizations, and professionals are encouraged to share their thoughts by January 31st here.  

13. Will the accelerating rate of climate change evidenced in 2018 be exacerbated by global climate patterns experienced in 2019?
This week the Canadian Press dubbed climate change the news story of the year. The tell-tale signs and impacts of climate change – such as sea level rise, ice loss, and extreme weather – increased during 2015-2019, which is set to be the warmest five-year period on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) here. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have also increased to record levels, locking in the warming trend for generations to come. Alluding to the challenge of meeting emission targets in a report this week here, Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Change Action Network Canada states “If we continue to ignore the root cause of climate change – extraction and combustion of fossil fuels – we’re going to keep missing the mark.”

14. Will the U.S. repeat as the FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions?
Yes. The U.S. defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the most-watched FIFA Women’s World Cup match ever (82 million viewers). Over the 52 matches played in nine host cities across France, the average live match audience was over 17 million viewers, more than double the 8.39 million average of Canada in 2015.

15. Will the record number of homeless people identified in the City of Vancouver’s 2018 Homeless Count be broken again in 2019?
Sadly, yes. Volunteers counted 2,223 homeless people in the city this year, the highest number since the annual count began in 2005.

16. Will 2019 have seen an economic recession?
A recession is defined by a fall in trade and industrial activity in two successive quarters as measured by GDP. So while a UN flagship report in September signaled a slowing economy being fed largely by binge deficit spending, no ‘recession’ was declared in 2019. The UN’s trade and development body, Unctad, said 2019 will endure the weakest expansion in a decade and there was a risk of the slowdown turning into outright contraction in 2020. Source

17. Will Brexit status be significant in determining whether Britain is “better off” at the end of 2019 than at the end of 2018?
The majority Conservative electoral win earlier this month was significant to the degree that it allowed PM Boris Johnson to put in motion UK withdrawal Agreement from the EU set for January 31, when the post-Brexit transition period will begin. For 11 months, the UK will still follow all the EU’s rules and regulations; it will remain in the single market and the customs union, and the free movement of people will continue. The challenge for the government will be to get all its new rules and policies in place by the end of 2020. The answer as to whether or not Britain is “better off” remains unclear.

18. Will European lumber deliveries to the U.S. decline in 2019?
“Interesting dynamics here,” said Russ Taylor last week, with Q4 data TBD. “Through September 2019, European imports are 4.3% below the pace of 2018 and slowed down significantly in Q3 vs Q2 this year – probably as a result of weak US prices. However, with the China market getting over supplied and US lumber prices rising in Q4, I expect European imports to increase. If they matched Q4 levels in 2018, that would put them even with 2019. However, with a glut of moderate quality logs and rising US prices, I expect that Q4 European shipments will be up significantly over Q3 levels, and even higher than Q4 levels from 2018, resulting in a small increase for 2019. In our just-released Global Sawmill Cost Benchmarking Report, the cost structure of the German and Czech mills has dropped by US$100/MFBM due to lower log costs (and more at some mills), allowing for easy access to the US market at very profitable levels. So I expect Central European exports to soar in 2020, especially if lumber prices improve (FEA forecasts a 10% increase over 2019).”

19. In view of lower lumber prices, will we see movement in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute?
No significant movement reported. When reached for comment, Susan Yurkovich, President and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, confirmed “Sadly no. Litigation will continue.”

View from The Observatory, atop Grouse Mountain (early evening 27 Dec 2019)

Lumber Issues Unsettled

Issues concerned with the cross-border softwood dispute remain among critical questions facing BC’s lumber industry. A sellout crowd of 225 at yesterday’s annual North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) Vancouver Regional meeting heard updates on Canada’s litigation efforts to “vigorously defend the industry” through five separate challenges. A hearing scheduled next Tuesday on the challenge regarding injury is considered to be the most critical of three challenges with NAFTA, all deemed to be significantly more important than two challenges with the WTO ( “a retaliation mechanism”). Colin Barker, Director Softwood Lumber Division, Global Affairs Canada update report confirming dormant cross-border softwood negotiations echoed remarks by US ambassador David MacNaughton at the COFI Convention April 4th.

Provincial government perspectives were shared by Jennifer Burleigh, Director of the Trade and Export Policy Branch with the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. On the heels of Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson’s “new model of forest management” discussion at the COFI Convention, she reiterated this provincial government’s “very different approach”.  Burleigh noted both Donaldson and Premier John Horgan’s “strong passion for forestry” citing the Coast Revitalization initiative and the recently announced Interior process as examples. Softwood lumber meetings with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) were tempered by acknowledgement of “no public interest” in the U.S.

COFI President and CEO Susan Yurkovich expanded on four challenges in BC’s forest sector today, specifically access to 1) fibre, 2) capital, 3) markets 4) talent. In accessing fibre, she noted increasing constraints on the timber harvesting land base. “We need to find a way to preserve the timber harvesting land base.” Yurkovich also expressed frustration with the punitive softwood lumber duties in the face of a lumber supply shortfall in the US: the lumber supply gap (“delta”) estimated at 14 billion FBM cannot be filled by domestic production.

Andy Rielly, President, Rielly Lumber Inc., and Chairman, Independent Wood Processors (IWPABC), and Executive Board Member, Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, fired up the audience which included majority of IWPABC’s 58 member companies. With an eye to SLA negotiations, Rielly emphasized the influential role of associations (“you don’t need an agent until you need an agent”). He highlighted the “double-whammy” facing the value-added sector: 1) re-manners are independent, non-tenured, non-subsidy companies and 2) the punitive application of the AD/CVD on the selling/border price instead of the first mill price. The association is advocating for a negotiated settlement “sooner rather than later” under a transferable quota-based system, with allocation of quota not based solely on historical shipment volumes (“new jobs here in BC are not coming from the primary”).

O Christmas Tree

It’s a buoyant market… if you’re talking Christmas trees. On both sides of the 49th parallel, Christmas tree growers say that sales are on the right track this year.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, environmentally-conscious Millennials might be to thank. Both Canadian and U.S. tree farmers indicate it’s mostly younger couples who are fueling the optimism for green tree sales. “They’re coming in for the experience. It’s their first Christmas and they want to purchase a real Christmas tree.”

Bloomberg confirms it’s going to be a green Christmas for tree growers. With more buyers opting for pine over plastic, prices in the U.S. have surged 17% over the past two years. In the Great White North, growers point to $77 million annual sales, with approximately half their production heading to U.S. markets.

At our house, while the Christmas lights are up, ‘we’ usually prefer to wait until mid-December to buy a tree. Turns out our kids were paying close attention to the systematic setup of our neighbourhood tree lot this year. They pass the site daily when my wife drives them to and from school. Fencing went up couple weeks ago. Big tent popped up. Then activity seemed to stall. Suddenly this week, rows of crisscrossing 2×4’s appeared. Plywood walkways surfaced. Wednesday, colorful signage! On the way home yesterday, LIGHTS!! This morning, my phone rang early at the office. “Daddy, we’re thinking of buying our Christmas Tree now.”

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

Wooden It Be Loverly

“Wooden it be loverly”, words from My Fair Lady ring true to a lumber trader’s ear.. even though Professor Henry Higgins may say it’s meant to say “wouldn’t”.
Today, another ‘would‘-related story is music to our ears (see: Guitar maker champions use of local woods).

It’s the Vancouver International Guitar Festival, upcoming in early August. The Vancouver Sun reports that some of the world’s top luthiers will be on hand “to present guitars crafted entirely from local BC woods such as Sitka spruce, red cedar, curly maple – perhaps even reclaimed or salvaged woods.”

The “local wood challenge” holds particular interest here in BC, which reportedly supplies 80 per cent of the tone wood to the global guitar market. While Englemann and Sitka spruce are two of the province’s most sought-after species, Dave Nadin of Bow River woods in Chilliwack notes a growing interest in other domestic woods.

It’s reported that while earlier guitar shows highlighted flashier guitars made of rosewood and mahogany, demand for locally-sourced wood is on the rise with an eye to sustainability and protection of natural resources. We’re told it’s the way of the future. Meanwhile, as long as Willie’n the boys make music, would or wouldn’t not guitar afficionados trust the chords to ring true, no matter what lumber’s in play.

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Images from a family hike in the woods last week at beautiful Golden Ears Provincial Park:

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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

Lumber Sales Therapists

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.

– Post by Ernie Harder

Sharpening the Saw

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.

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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’.

Premier John Horgan with COFI President & CEO Susan Yurkovich (6 Apr 2018)

Sticker Shock

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.

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