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.

~~~

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

~~~

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)