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

Q&A – 2016 Edition

Of the Top Ten Questions for 2016 posed at Harderblog one year ago, the first five have been satisfactorily answered for us:

1. Will the Trump presidential campaign have staying power beyond March?
See November election results.

2. Will the US make history by electing a woman as president for the first time?
No.

3. Will BC softwood log exports to Mainland China eclipse BC softwood lumber exports?
For the answer to this question, we turned to Russ Taylor, President, WOOD MARKETS. “Interesting question, but lumber export volumes to China have always been much higher than logs. The gap is narrowing, but lumber export volumes are still much higher.” Russ confirms BC softwood exports to China through October as follows: Logs = 3.0 million m3 vs 2.43 million m3 in 2015 (+23%); Lumber = 5.0 million m3 vs 5.49 million m3 in 2015 (-9%). Of course, log exports even south of the border continue to be a contentious issue.

exports

4. Will a new Softwood Lumber Agreement be reached between Canada and the United States before the standstill period ends October 13?
No. By early October, we were told talks had entered the days of magical thinking. And while the US Lumber Coalition’s submission of their petition to the US Department of Commerce was predictable, the November 25 timing caught markets by surprise. At least one forest analyst suggested “it put a whole new spin on Black Friday.”

5. Is this the year virtual reality goes mainstream?
As the cost of development falls, we’re told virtual reality is in fact beginning to move into the mainstream. However, it’s reported that most console headsets are still “device-exclusive”. And flaws in these controllers actually tempered demand in 2016, leading Tech Digest to ask will virtual reality finally become mainstream in 2017?

Economy Grade

When referencing “Economy” in relation to lumber, we’re talking falldown or lower grade. That’s not to say there can’t be value in economy grade. A whole industry of utilizing lower grades finds economic viability around remanufacturing lower grades of wood. At the same time, bottom-line, results-driven users of lumber are recognizing benefits of enhanced value in quality in planning construction inventory needs. It’s understandable that suppliers concerned with building brand recognition around quality, both in terms of service and product, tend not to build that awareness around ‘economy’.

In the airlines industry, ‘economy’ defines a supposed base line of minimum, acceptable service. Or so we thought. But not so much anymore. In an effort to redefine coach by re-grading passengers, it’s reported here a number of airlines are introducing a section with even fewer perks than economy class. The “deprivations” United passengers will be experiencing with implementation of “basic economy” suggest levels of service that will not allow for any overhead bin space – and declaration for boarding last. Presumably everybody still lands at the same time.

This trend is interesting considering the inferior quality of products and service being promoted seems to be ‘flying’ in the face of other aspects of commercial/industrial/consumer trends. In this age of heightened branding awareness, the airline approach seems to be contradictory to what their branding goals purport to represent. In the lumber business, “adding value” has built-in connotation for upgrade of quality in product and service, not a dumbing down of those variables. In fact, in the event of a new hybrid tax and quota softwood lumber agreement, some suggest that ‘economy’ could be the first to go.. on a slow boat to China.

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From NLGA, Standard Grading Rules for Canadian Lumber

Beijing Branding

Vancouver Forest is a unique 900-unit residential development – in Beijing! We’re told here the site was designed to replicate a mini west-side Vancouver neighborhood complete with west-side Vancouver-style housing, landscaping, trees – and bidding wars, presumably. A Google search reveals the plan was hatched in 2002. By 2006, construction had stalled however, when the Chinese government determined single detached homes were not in the collective interest of the country’s more than one billion people. By 2009, construction had resumed, and it’s reported that 900 homes of approximately 4300 square feet each have been completed. According to Business Vancouver, “North American single-family home subdivisions started emerging in China early this century following successful projects such as Orange County, which created a faux Los Angeles an hour’s drive from Beijing.”

So I read with interest a report today in The New York Times. According to the report, this trend of tacking on foreign names to developments around China could be coming to an end. We’re told concern over the foreign names was raised when a recent survey revealed that since 1986, “60,000 township names and 400,000 village names have fallen from use as a result of development and urbanization” in China. The minister of civil affairs has said names that “damage sovereignty and national dignity” or “violate the socialist core values and conventional morality” would be targeted. Meanwhile, developers argue the “international flavor helps sell houses”.

Loonie Tunes

There are many ‘beginning-of-the-year’ tunes or phrases aimed at setting before us the opportunities offered up in a clean New Year sheet. “Getting started is half the task.”  “Enjoy the journey.” Even so, this January is a riddle. A year ago, January offered up record snow falls that shut down lumber markets. This year the early weather patterns, while confusing as usual, have largely been hospitable for winter construction activity in most regions of the continent.
(Addendum – 1/25: Notwithstanding the giant snowstorm over the weekend which blanketed much of the Northeast…the weather through January was generally hospitable for winter construction in most of the continent)

All fine and good until we acknowledge that our lumber markets are now, more than ever, global. A sudden awareness that China’s declared objectives of switching from a manufacturing economy to a consumer/services economy is impacting negatively on BC’s largest producers’ projections for unabated growth of softwood lumber exports to China. Add in the record lows for oil and it all makes for ‘loonie’ tune forecasts in lumber markets, whatever jurisdiction the focus.

B.C. softwood lumber exports to Mainland China (Source: B.C. Stats)

-18.1% in June 2015 YOY

-19.5% in July

-42.3% in August

-55.5% in September

-48.6% in October

-25.3% in November

 

 

Ten Questions for 2016

Here are ten questions that Harderblog will be watching in 2016, in search of answers:

    1. Will the Trump presidential campaign have staying power beyond March?
    2. Will the U.S. make history by electing a woman as president for the first time?
    3. Will B.C. softwood log exports to Mainland China eclipse B.C. softwood lumber exports?
    4. Will a new Softwood Lumber Agreement be reached between Canada and the United States before the standstill period ends Oct 13, 2016?
    5. Is this the year Virtual Reality goes mainstream?
    6. Is oil in the $20’s an inevitable reality?
    7. How low can the loonie go?
    8. Where will Conifex stock be priced in 12 months?
    9. Is this the year 3-D printers stationed in Fraser Lake begin mass production of 2×10-14’s and 16’s?
    10. Will the Chicago Mercantile Exchange implement circuit-breakers to tame volatility in the lumber futures market?

~Funkify~

I recently finished recording sax tracks and a solo for the second song in a series of original compositions by Dave Friend. Hope you enjoy Metrotown posted below:

Outlook Mixed

My takeaways from industry connections at the lively LMC Expo in Philadelphia last week suggest year end reviews from analysts point to a mixed outlook for 2016.

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Analyst Paul Jannke, Principal of Forest Economic Advisors (FEA) presented at Friday’s breakfast session. I arrived early, having heard Jannke speak back in 2012 at the NAWLA Regional Meeting in Vancouver. A bull in a Bruins jersey back then (see post here), his presentation was decidedly more bearish on Friday. The four factors explaining this year’s lumber price collapse were familiar (lower than forecast U.S. housing starts, lower export volumes to China, rising production capacity, foreign exchange rates). Of greater interest were the reasons why FEA projects that “markets will likely remain weak through next year”:

  • Mills are anticipating higher levels of consumption (“investing in efficiency”)
  • U.S. dollar to remain strong
  • Domestic consumption growth will be slow
  • Exports to China will continue to be weak
  • Entering a period of seasonal weakness
  • Expiration of the SLA.

At the same time, Jannke cited a number of reasons suggesting minimal downside risk (“the longer the time horizon the better we feel”):

  • Near cost of production for Western SPF
  • Dealer inventories are low
  • Limits to Russia’s ability to supply China
  • Consumption will increase
  • BC will see supply limitations
  • Mills will be more cautious with their planning.

When gauging homebuilding activity (FEA forecasts 1.26 million U.S. housing starts in 2016), Jannke said that sales data is the key stat to watch going forward (“new home sales are presently consistent with just over one million starts”).

Later that morning, I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Jannke at our Dakeryn table on the exhibit floor.  It was interesting to hear him say that lumber market conditions might play a role in the timing of any cross-border trade negotiations (“to help in proving injury”). When I asked how Canadian sawmill expansion in the Southeastern U.S. might play into those negotiations, Jannke downplayed the impact while noting that members of the U.S. Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports include a number of private timber owners. I also asked how so many forest analysts “got it wrong” in their 2015 forecasts for significantly higher lumber prices. Jannke said that while he couldn’t speak for other analysts, FEA had one of the more tempered price forecasts this year ($300-320/M).