Market Milieu

Where, oh where has the market gone? This is the mournful lament intoned on lumber trading floors spooked well in advance of Hallowe’en this year.

Conditions testing the resilience of experienced traders are drawing comparisons with the global financial crisis and US housing market collapse of a decade ago. Today’s geopolitical landscape seems besieged with instability amid crises, including international trade concerns, rising interest rates, financial market volatility, and looming US elections.

Seasoned traders seek to offer reassurance and calm aimed at validating longstanding customer-supplier relationships. While financial analysts scramble to make sense of conditions in the face of seemingly disparate economic data, it seems timely to explore tips for dealing with the biggest lumber market meltdown in history.

Google has advice for handling times like these. One link offering “28 positive things you can do when business is slow” suggests a slow period is just another name for opportunity: “ask for help, take some down time, take a course, take up a hobby, network, develop new offerings, rethink your business model and processes, strengthen important relationships, write, teach, volunteer, exercise, study another industry.” Some guys have even been known to enthusiastically take up coaching – not one – but two girls’ soccer teams.

Another column suggested eating lots of leafy green vegetables to keep your cognitive abilities sharp and on high alert. Even so, we’re told Canada’s legalized cannabis should not be seen as a tool for alleviating anxiety in current market milieu.

Where, oh where has the market gone?
Like a saucer of yesterday’s beer.
I don’t wanna be short,
I don’t wanna be long,
In fact Duthie, I don’t even wanna be here.

– Ernie Harder, singing live at the 1995 British Columbia Wholesale Lumber Association Roast honoring Duthie Welsford, BCWLA Lumberman of the Year (recording below)

2018 NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting

Another sell-out crowd packed The Vancouver Club’s Grand Ballroom yesterday afternoon for the annual North American Wholesale Lumber Association (NAWLA) Regional Meeting. Vancouver’s Lumber Marketing Event of the Year also celebrated NAWLA’s 125th year “dedicated to growing and nurturing every aspect of the lumber industry.” NAWLA’s Executive Director Marc Saracco opened the meeting. Presentations by three featured speakers were all very well-received:

Jennifer Cover, Executive Director, WoodWorks USA – Wood Products Council
Russ Taylor, Managing Director – Forest Economic Advisors (FEA) Canada
Derek Orr, Business Development Manager, Carrier Lumber Ltd

Thanks to Tree Frog News for the following images posted with permission.

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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)

Tolerance of Uncertainty

Lumber traders daily navigate a terrain of market volatility and uncertainty.
Interpreting market changes for suppliers and buyers is a defining characteristic of the wholesale function in today’s international lumber trading environment. The factors contributing to successful lumber trading are closely tied to personal qualities ascribed to effective sales and entrepreneurship.

In Building Products Connection (Feb/Mar issue, published by the Northwestern Lumber Association), sales consultant Jeff Beals suggests sales is entrepreneurship, before exploring the seven characteristics of an entrepreneur. In a nutshell:

Moderate Risk-Taking: Far from the stereotypical reputation for taking big risks, Beals argues successful entrepreneurs are moderate risk takers. “They don’t shy away from ambiguity if they believe opportunity is present, but they study and calculate before taking the risk.” (Related: The B&S Theory of Lumber Trading)

Tolerance of Uncertainty: “Entrepreneurs can handle living in the unknown.” That’s a particularly valuable characteristic according to Beals, because there are no guarantees in sales.

Ego: “Obviously you don’t want to be an obnoxious ass, but if you’re lacking in confidence, you should work on it. Even if you’re an introvert, constantly develop and refine your people skills, because working with and through others is critically important.”

High Energy: Perseverance is similar to energy. “When things aren’t going well, entrepreneurial people double down” – and blog harder?

Goal-Oriented: Beals considers this to be the most important entrepreneurial characteristic.

Diverse Thinkers: Simultaneously managing tactics while thinking strategically; we’re told entrepreneurs work on short-term and long-term goals at the same time.

Integrity: The longer people and organizations exhibit consistent integrity, the more likely they will succeed. “The most consistently successful entrepreneurs exhibit high levels of integrity.”

Fraser River, view to Baker Mountain (12 Feb 2018)

11 Questions for 2018

Here are 11 questions that Harderblog will be watching in 2018, in search of answers:

1. Will rhetoric of military strike pass the ‘tipping point’ into war with North Korea?
2. Will the Bitcoin excitement be fading, or prove to be a bubble?
3. Will the extreme weather patterns evidenced in 2017 be as pronounced in 2018?
4. Will Trump take steps to call a halt to the special prosecutor’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
5. Has integrity lost some of its lustre as a perceived prerequisite for leadership success?
6. As higher lumber prices effectively offset impact of duties, will Canadian major producers’ newly-hedged investments in U.S. production assuage any further concerns companies such as West Fraser and Canfor might have about the ongoing Softwood Lumber dispute?
7. Will Germany repeat as FIFA World Cup champions?
8. Will the powers that be acknowledge that the remanufacturing (value-added) segment of the Canadian forest sector is being unfairly penalized in the application of the AD/CVD?
9. Will softwood lumber be incorporated into NAFTA?
10. In view of the fractured supply chain, will lumber buyers abandon the “just-in-time” model in favour of securing coverage that satisfies longer-term projected needs?
11. Will broccoli, the least-trusted vegetable of 2017 among lumber traders and the general population, retain that notoriety in 2018, at the same time as the world watches broccoli’s favorability surge to number one in Scotland?

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?