Summer Haze

While smoke from B.C. wildfires hangs heavily over Interior and Coastal landscapes, so too a certain smoke obscures lumber market horizons searching for uncertain outcomes of softwood lumber negotiations.

When prices climb, lumber as a commodity finds extra supply available: mills re-open, add shifts, build more mills, areas that were too remote to haul timber from become more economical etc. But we interrupt this program with an unprecedented wildfire season. Fire danger has disrupted logging operations, stalled production at a number of mills, and fractured the transportation chain. As the contractor handling our recent home renovation liked to point out, “These costs are real.” Perhaps most alarming, reports this week tell us industry analysts are concerned the fires will compound B.C.’s dwindling timber supply. “Part of the tragedy we are dealing with is that fires are also burning through trees spared by the pine beetle outbreak, including young planted stands that were being counted on as timber supply over the next several decades,” said Phil Burton, professor of forest ecology and management at UBC here.

Traders meanwhile point to the upcoming expiration of the preliminary countervailing duty on Canadian softwood lumber shipments to the United States week of August 28th. Following the recent spike in lumber prices, many dealers appear to be anticipating a steep market correction when the 20% CVD is lifted. Will the bottom fall out? If only things were that simple. We’re told negotiations for a possible new SLA involving a cap on market share are progressing. While there is perceived motivation and hope for striking a deal before NAFTA negotiations are set to begin, some have now questioned that timeline, warning the U.S. Lumber Coalition’s “de-facto veto” on any proposed agreement might prolong the dispute, suggesting a quick resolution may not be congruent with their interests.
BREAKING: U.S. industry rejects Canada’s latest softwood-lumber proposal

Burrard Inlet today, and downtown Vancouver

What’s wrong with this picture?

We’re told that “rising material costs” were a significant factor in the wake of 51% of U.S. home builders raising prices last month. This according to surveys conducted by John Burns Real Estate Consulting, noting this ratio marks only the second time in the last 10 years more than half of new home communities raised prices – the highest rate since the dramatic surge in U.S. housing prices in 2013. Meanwhile The Economic Calendar reports here that “cost pressures” can help to explain why housing starts and permits have been relatively uneventful over the past few months. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) suggests that this trend of firming confidence in the face of underwhelming housing data is liable to continue due to “supply-side issues.”

Aside from unprecedented seasonal B.C. wildfire impact on lumber markets, restricted fibre supply looms on the horizon. At the same time as questions of housing affordability challenge builders and consumers across the continent, does it make sense for narrowly defined interests of The U.S. Lumber Coalition to seek further price-increasing tariffs on lumber imports?

Some of the groups that are hurt by foreign competition wield enough political power to obtain protection against imports. Consequently, barriers to trade continue to exist despite their sizable economic costs.
The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics

More: Canadian Wildfires Choke Lumber Supply to U.S. Home Builders – WSJ

Close?

While industry spokespersons are being tight lipped about progress in softwood lumber negotiations, rumours abound.

Last Friday, word circulated that Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Christina Freeland and United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross “shook hands” on a ten year Softwood Lumber Agreement restricting market share. This rumour seemed to be congruent with perceived political motivation to achieve a managed trade agreement ahead of potential NAFTA negotiations. By Monday however, a declared state of emergency due to mega-fires in B.C. superseded quota chatter. Then CIBC Capital Markets cautioned that any proposed settlement could be vetoed by the U.S. Lumber Coalition. The rumour fizzled Monday afternoon when in a Madison’s Lumber Reporter follow-up, we were told a source close to the U.S. Lumber Coalition had cleverly confirmed that Minister Freeland and Secretary Ross “surely shook hands” on Friday but “did not shake hands on a deal”. In an update just this afternoon, CIBC Capital Markets noted the framework of the rumoured “handshake deal” was almost identical to a proposal the two sides were reportedly close to agreement on two weeks ago before it was rejected by the Coalition.  CIBC estimates the probability of an agreement between the two countries by the end of August at “greater than 50%”.

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As recently as last Thursday, the only talk about forest fires in this province was about how few were burning (“three or four”). Suddenly 140 fires started Friday, followed by nearly 100 more Saturday, and a few dozen more Sunday. It’s interesting to learn here how a below-average fire season in 2016 and an unseasonably wet spring in 2017 may have made the forest more susceptible to fire, fueling the unprecedented spread over the weekend. Mills watch with anxiety as the wildfire season, just begun, is impacting Interior communities and forest operations. The Vancouver Sun reports West Fraser, Tolko, and OSB manufacturer Norbord are among the companies that have suspended operations around 100 Mile House and Williams Lake, with 1,000 employees from West Fraser alone off work due to the closures.

BREAKING NEWS

Some of us might wonder if the North American Wholesale Lumber Association risks upstaging CNN and Wolf Blitzer with BREAKING NEWS when the 2017 NAWLA Regional Meeting convenes in Vancouver next week. We can’t be sure of that. Although the anticipated public announcement of the U.S. Department of Commerce preliminary CVD ruling April 25th against Canadian softwood lumber imports is expected to draw a full house to the NAWLA gathering two days later, April 27th. An expert panel’s assessment of implications of the preliminary ruling is sure to attract heightened interest:

  • Jason Fisher, Associate Deputy Minister, Forest Sector at B.C. Ministry of Forests
  • Susan Yurkovich, President & CEO, B.C. Council of Forest Industries
  • Duncan Davies, President & CEO, Interfor Corporation

For more information, visit the NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting webpage here.

Update from NAWLA (April 25):  The 2017 Vancouver Regional Meeting has reached capacity and is unable to accept additional registrants at this time. The wait list for this event is also now full. Only those who are on the attendee list will be granted access to this event.

2017 COFI Convention – 26 Takeaways

1. Convention buzzwords: shift (in fibre supply), declining (timber quality), instability (of supply), balance, diversification, value, engage, relationships, confidence, communication, connecting, collaboration

2. Most important trend shaping the global environment: dramatic expansion of the global middle class.
Jock Finlayson, Business Council of B.C., bemoaned Canada’s “slow-moving jurisdiction in a fast-moving world.”
The American economy continues to advance. Over the medium term, “B.C. needs to address a number of important structural weaknesses that threaten our prosperity”.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubt.
– Burtrand Russell

3. Historical devaluation of the Ruble triggered significant investment in state of the art sawmilling equipment in Russia. Currency-based advantage led to surge in softwood exports to China. Notion that Russia has an aging, limited infrastructure, is wrong. There are no logistical cost issues in Russia.
– Russ Taylor, President, Wood Markets

4. Russia has Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC). “Don’t ask me how.” – Russ Taylor

5. The panel assembled for the International Markets Review was a rare convention disappointment. U.S. homebuilding constraints are well-known. U.S. housing starts forecasts have become tedious. As for China, when Eric Wong, Canada Wood Beijing Office, warned that B.C. is losing softwood market share, no alarm bells sounded at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Growth in demand offshore is “continual” according to Wong, attributed in part to logging bans in China’s “natural forests” (25 million cube/year harvest reduction). Record softwood imports in 2016 in China >32 million cubes. In a post-beetle world, at least one trader was left wondering if B.C. (“the global resource for softwood,” according to architect Michael Green) should just go off the market.

6. India will be the 5th largest consumer market by 2025. 60% of the population in India is <35.
– Peter Bradfield, Forestry Innovation Investment

7. “The concept of innovation is.. what are you going to do with all of this growing information? Big Data connects people, like us, to the brilliance in the room”. Challenges facing the Big Data Revolution: Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity.
– Rory Armes, Founder & CEO, Cumul8

8. “Innovative technologies will help attract tech-savy video gamer kids who aren’t considering a resource-based industry.”
Mark Gerberman, AR/VR Strategic Partnerships & Business Development, Finger Food Studios

9. How can we keep better track of our natural resources using emerging technologies? We need better data and better analysis tools.
In the future, drone technology and remote sensing will identify the log and the mill, and determine the optimal products and customers – before that tree is felled. “We’re working to offer the industry a turn-key drone.”
– Mike Wilcox, Co-founder/COO, Spire Aerobotics

10. “It’s Urban Wood Building instead of Tall Wood Building.”
– Michael Green, Principal, MGA 

11. “Instability of (wood) supply makes people step back.” – Michael Green

12. “Changing the public perception about what’s possible.. reshaping public perception.. is the challenge. But it’s really happening. These ideas are not abstract. Thirty storeys? When we do that or will we do that remains to be seen, but it’s possible.” – Michael Green

13. “The construction industry is broken.”
– Michael Green

14. “Here in B.C., we may be making the right products but we need to be part of the right system. The idea is universal. We want to be leaders in becoming part of this ‘system’ thinking.” – Michael Green

15. TOE = Timber Online Education. Open access to leading experts.. “from forest to frame”. Free global education in wood design, construction, policy, markets, ownership, and environmental impact.

16. “We didn’t blockade because we wanted to stop the forestry, we wanted to be a part of it.”
– Chief Derek Orr, McLeod Lake Indian Band

17. “The Tsilhqot’in decision was a game changer. When I first meet with a chief, it better not be to ask to build a road. We’re there to undertake their unique vision for their community. What is your vision? Under-promise and over-deliver. If you don’t honour one of those commitments then your relationship goes backwards.”
– Karen Brandt, VP, Corporate Affairs & Sustainability, Interfor

18. “Engage and engage early. Meaningfully engaging with First Nations is how you build relationships. If you’re too busy to sit down with us, then we’re too busy to give you support.”
– Willie Sellars, Councillor, Williams Lake Indian Band

19. “I like to think Prince George is the Bio Energy capital.”
– Lyn Hall, Mayor, City of Prince George, who confirmed the COFI Convention returns to PG next year.

20. “The urban and rural connection, not the urban and rural divide.”
– Greg Moore, Mayor, City of Port Coquitlam
21. “Reinvesting in our business to innovate and modernize the technology in our mills isn’t about making more lumber. We’re not going to make more lumber. We’re going to make more value. Industry and government need to get together to get more value out of a scarce fibre resource.”
– Ted Seraphim, President & CEO, West Fraser

22. “How to run at two shifts efficiently instead of three shifts is the challenge. Three shifts are not possible.” – Nick Arkle, Co-CEO, Gorman

23. “(The softwood lumber dispute) could lovingly be called a hardy perennial. But it is a mutating form of bacteria that has all but become antibiotic-resistant.”
– David Emerson, B.C.’s Trade Envoy to the United States

24. “The consumer will pay the price.” – Duncan Davies, President & CEO, Interfor

25. “The softwood file is top of mind for the entire government. We have a strong case but that’s cold comfort for the people feeling the pain of the imposition of duties. A good, strong, fair, mutually-beneficial deal is preferable to long litigation. On both sides of the border, trade is central to maintaining standard of living. Trade creates jobs.”
– Kirsten Hillman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade Policy & Negotiation, Global Affairs Canada

26. Q: Is a market share-based quota inevitable?
A: “Nothing is inevitable.” – Kirsten Hillman

COFI Countdown

The sold out COFI 2017 Convention kicks off at 6:30pm this evening with an ice breaker in the stunning wood-infused architecture of the Vancouver Convention Centre. The largest gathering of the forest sector in Canada, we’re told over 600 delegates are registered this year, making this the biggest COFI Convention in ten years. The annual meeting brings attention and awareness to the significance of forestry to the economic well-being of the province. This year’s theme is Forestry for the Planet. Forest Products for the World.

The convention’s jam-packed itinerary ensures plenty to capture our attention through Friday. Tomorrow’s keynote speaker is renowned architect Michael Green who will present Increments of Change: from early tall wood buildings to a global movement. I’m also looking forward to the International Markets Review in the morning, and an afternoon CEO panel featuring Nick Arkle (Gorman Group), Duncan Davies (Interfor), Don Kayne (Canfor), and Ted Seraphim (West Fraser). On Friday, David Emerson, BC Trade Envoy to the United States, will discuss Canada’s Trade Negotiations Agenda with Kirsten Hillman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade Policy & Negotiation, Global Affairs Canada.

There’s a ton of other interesting panel discussions before we hear from BC Premier Christy Clark, keynote speaker at Friday’s closing luncheon. Speaking of politics, it’s interesting today to look back in the blog archives at Premier Clark’s keynote at the COFI 2013 Convention, a fiery speech which seemingly sparked her campaign’s comeback, leading to a surprise victory in the provincial election the following month.

A good preview of the COFI 2017 Convention is available in the podcast below. It includes a number of hard-hitting caller questions for Susan Yurkovich, COFI President & CEO. My 23 takeaways from last year’s excellent COFI Convention in Kelowna are available here.

Weathering Climate Change

How long before we can expect to see palm trees lining Vancouver boulevards?

It’s expected that shifts in climate will see trees normally associated with warmer climes finding comfort levels farther north. The Vancouver Sun reports here that according to a new study called Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver, “changes in temperature and precipitation will affect everything from sewage pipes to ski hills.” Local trees will be poorly adapted to the rising temperatures and elevated disease pressures.

According to Genome British Columbia, foresters have three options for dealing with climate change: reforest with the same species but with trees that are better adapted to warmer climates; move species further north or to higher elevations; or select and breed trees that can better withstand climatic stresses or disease. This news release from Genone British Columbia is an interesting read. We’re told the CoAdapTree project, which involves revolutionary testing by a genomics research team at UBC led by Dr. Sally Aitken, Forest & Conservation Sciences, will ultimately lead to better reforestation strategies for western Canada’s changing climates.

Climate change isn’t just bad for trees. It’s also bad for the economic and environmental benefits they provide to Canada – benefits like wood, jobs, habitat protection, and carbon sequestration. CoAdapTree: Healthy trees for future climates, will provide recommendations for climate-based seed transfer policy to guide foresters in planting trees that will be healthy in new climates in western Canada. Climate-based seed transfer can result in up to 30% greater timber yields, with a proportional impact on the economy and employment, and will also sustain ecological and environmental benefits of forests.