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.

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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)

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?

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees (Guest Post)

I have to admit, I am not smart enough to totally understand all the concepts within the softwood lumber dispute. It is beyond me how a small group of people (U.S. Lumber Coalition) can continually try to hold a whole country hostage in spite of the fact that International Courts have proven them wrong time and time again.

It is also beyond me how the U.S. Department of Commerce can not only continue to support what seems to be a money grab but also seem to be able to differentiate the amount of alleged damage each company has contributed to the U.S. Lumber Coalition through mysterious, arbitrary numbers and selective testimony.

Be all that as it may, everyone both inside and outside of the industry understands that the only real damage being done is to the little guy. It is not a shock that this continued dispute only drives up the price of lumber to both U.S. and Canadian consumers and all the while the rich guys on both sides of the border get richer.

What my simple mind does find shocking is that with all the smart people involved in this process, nobody is talking about the “unintended” consequence of the anti-dumping and countervailing duties (AD/CVD) as it is applied.

In March of this year, I had a long conversation with Wendy Frankel, Director, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Liaison Unit, International Trade Administration (ITA), U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). I took great pains to explain to her that by applying the AD/CVD on the selling (border) price, the DOC is actually subsidizing the U.S. Secondary Remanufacturers as opposed to creating a level playing field. Applying the AD/CVD to the first mill price would be far more appropriate as that is where the alleged damage exists and it would not affect the competitiveness of the secondary market. Ms Frankel was clear that subsidizing the U.S. remanners was not the intent and I will try to take her at her word.

The math is simple:
A Canadian independent remanner buys 2×8-20’ SPF on the open market from a mill in B.C. at $639/M delivered Vancouver. This remanner turns that wood into 2×8-20’ Fascia Combtex Prime and sells it to a U.S. customer for $1000/M. At the rates announced November 2nd in the final determination, the Canadian company will pay approximately $208/M in duties (calculation simplified for presentation) thus “grossing” $153/M before processing costs. A U.S. remanner buying the same lumber and selling to the same customer at the same price would pay $133/M in duties thus “grossing” $228/M before processing.

It seems undeniable to me that this significant difference is a clear subsidy.. a subsidy that would not exist if the duties were applied to the first mill price.

Since my conversation with Ms Frankel in March, I have approached fellow remanners (too expensive to fight), industry associations, and Government officials and nobody will take the time to have the conversation with me (although one individual did offer to meet me in the parking lot for suggesting he was not doing his job).

After all of that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Is this dispute legitimately about levelling the playing field – or just a recurring disguise for greed?
2. If somebody like me who admittedly is not the sharpest knife in the drawer can see this so clearly, why can’t the smart people?
3. Do the negotiators actually see the consequence – but both sides are holding ‘first mill’ as a negotiating point in spite of the fact that it was the basis of taxes in the previous agreement?
4. Do politicians just accept that there will be collateral damage in disputes like this and are willing to potentially sacrifice the small independent remanufacturers?
5. Am I missing something?

I guess only time will tell.

Roy Falletta, VP Finance & Administration
Dakeryn Group of Companies

An Accident of Circumstance

Some participants on both sides of the softwood lumber dispute are seemingly struggling to understand basic tenets of supply and demand. A global market is in play in the long run to influence supply and pricing. However, as this Bloomberg report demonstrates, imposition of duties on Canadian softwood lumber is mostly hurting U.S. consumers these days.

This unexpected boon for Canadian lumber producers is essentially an accident of circumstance. The attacks on Canadian lumber exports combined with serious wildfire issues in both Canada and the U.S. have served to reduce lumber supply. Meanwhile, the recent hurricanes that impacted the U.S. have led to a spike in construction – causing lumber demand to soar.

The result of these simultaneous supply/demand pressures has been a sharp surge in lumber prices. According to The Globe & Mail, Canadian softwood lumber producers have seen gains in their share prices of more than 40%. In contrast, U.S. lumber producers are averaging gains of only 10%.

The end result of the latest harassment on Canadian companies is that these companies have become more profitable, while U.S. consumers are paying significantly inflated prices for lumber – even as natural disasters have created an imperative need for new U.S. construction.

– Stockhouse Newswire 09-20-2017

The Art of the Deal

By definition, lumber traders earn their living through negotiation. Most days, the process is more nuanced than “buy low – sell high”!

Trade deals involving negotiation are making news on many fronts these days. Online articles readily offer varying principles, guidelines, and rules for effective negotiation. One such report in the Harvard Business Review offers what the author terms “four ‘golden rules’ to be the most helpful towards productive negotiation outcomes.”

Some have been known to describe successful outcomes around strategy of ‘winning versus losing’, or characterizing established trade deals as “the worst ever”. However, experienced lumber traders know that successful long term customer-supplier relationships, as with international trade deals, are built on effective “win-win” negotiations.

Current NAFTA negotiations are taking shape around what has been described as a list of ‘demands’ from the parties involved. While noises and threats of cancelling NAFTA eminate from some quarters, serious folks tell us to keep focus on the real work of negotiations that recognize there are benefits to be gained for all in working toward effective updating of the deal. Thus the ‘golden rules’ as spelled out in HBR that parallel different stages of a negotiation are interesting to view in the light of negotiations underway on many fronts.

1. The background homework: This serves as a good reminder that any beginning of negotiation calls for need to understand the interests and positions of the other side relative to your own interests and positions.

2. During the process, don’t negotiate against yourself: It’s pointed out that this is especially true if you don’t fully know the position of the other side. This is a recommendation not to give in too early on the points important to you. Wait to better understand which points are more important to the other side.

3. The stalemate: We’re told that there will often come a point in a negotiation where it feels like there is zero room for either side to budge. Both sides are stuck on their position and may have lost sight of the overall goals of the negotiation. If you recognize that you’ve reached this point, see if you can give in to the other side on their issue in exchange for an unrelated point. My Dad relates the story of how my parents negotiated the sale of their first home in Prince George 52 years ago, when a transfer back to Vancouver by his wholesale lumber employer, Ralph S. Plant Ltd, necessitated sale of the home. When negotiations seemingly reached a stalemate over price, Dad recognized that the unfinished basement in the home had been mentioned as one of the sticking points. The prospective buyer, a self-described handyman, was satisfied to point of successful closure on the sale with offer from my Dad to include a trailer of fine Carrier studs, sufficient for completion of the home’s basement.

4.To close or not to close: That is, whether you drive too hard a bargain, cannot reconcile on key terms, or feel that the deal is just too rich for your blood, it’s suggested you “make the offer you want to and let the other side walk if they don’t want it.” This is not to say to be offensive or to low ball, but rather, to be honest, straightforward on what you are willing to do, and explain that you understand if it doesn’t work for them and that it is the best you can do.” No doubt this rule garners respect among all parties involved, including buyers and sellers of wood.

Q&A – Final Five for 2016

Answers to the five remaining questions from the Harderblog Top Ten Questions for 2016:

6. Is oil in the $20’s an inevitable reality?
No. In early January, crude prices had plunged to $34 in the face of oversupply, a level not seen since the early 2000s. But that would turn out to be the low for the year. Most recently, a curtailment deal between OPEC and rival producers was expected to further tighten supply in midst of growing demand.

7. How low can the loonie go?
The low of the year was January 20, when one Canadian Dollar was worth 0.6854 US Dollar.

8. Where will Conifex stock be priced in 12 months?
See TSE:CFF. Conifex Timber Inc. has risen over 30% since December 31, 2015.

9. Is this the year 3-D printers stationed in Fraser Lake begin mass production of 2×10-14’s and 16’s?
While there is little evidence of 3-D printers mass producing 2×10-14’s & 16’s at Fraser Lake this year, there is evidence that technological developments in production of new wood products are making a profound impact on many fronts. The opportunity to spend an afternoon touring the 18-storey mass timber hybrid structure pictured below at UBC was one of the highlights of the year. See High on Wood.

10. Will the Chicago Mercantile Exchange implement circuit-breakers to tame volatility in the lumber futures market?
According to reports that regularly publish updates on lumber futures activity, it’s generally acknowledged that what happens in the lumber market is a microcosm for the entire commodities asset class. However the factors behind volatile changes are felt much more acutely in lumber, than, say, crude oil, because the market/volume is so small. This week we posed Question #10 to Stinson Dean, Broker & Risk Manager at Tall Tree Lumber Company, who confirms volume/open interest is especially low in lumber right now. “Below 4,000 open contracts is very low. Lumber used to have 10,000 in open interest back in 2012-13. When there are limited participants, there are limited sell orders and buy orders. When bullish news is announced, there aren’t enough sellers in the market to absorb an influx of buyers and we get locked limit-up. Buyers are forced to go higher and higher to find sellers.” He adds, “Random Lengths noted that 2014 was one of the least volatile years on record. That’s been followed by two very volatile years. The difference between 2014 and the two most recent years is non-commercial speculator participation. 2014 was a trendless year, 2015 was a bear trend, and 2016 was a bull trend. Funds, in particular, love trends. ‘The trend is your friend’. So, when that group recognizes a trend, they start to pile on. And that starts a chain reaction.” According to Stinson, the funds are out of the market right now; it’s anticipated they will step back in long in the new year.

brock-commons

Sizzle and Pop

Turns out prices aren’t set by Random Lengths afterall. Adam Taggart, President of Peak Prosperity, explains that prices are actually determined by two things: the upper limit that the marginal buyer is willing to pay, and how intensely the competition from other buyers pushes him towards that limit. Taggart tells us that this basic economic principle that prices are set at the margin, “is just as true for stocks and housing as it is for fine art,” adding: “Most of us don’t really think about the marginal buyer much, but he (or she) is very important. The marginal buyer can evaporate faster than you think. That is the nature of an asset bubble’s unavoidable destiny to pop.”

So what happens when the “current” marginal buyer of an asset disappears? “Prices must fall to become affordable to the next marginal buyer,” confirms Taggart. The example he cites hits home. He submits the marginal buyer of Metro Vancouver real estate has vaporized since the provincial government’s August 2nd passage of the 15% foreign buyer tax.  His expert analysis makes for an interesting read, here.

 

Wall Street Farm Animals?

When a truckload of pigs going to slaughter rolled over this morning in Burlington, Ontario, it’s reported the surviving swines sprung to their hooves and made their getaway. Freedom! We’ve since learned that all that futures bacon has been corralled. The Great Escape was foiled. Bummer. It’s certainly a reminder there’s no underestimating the relative value pigs bring to the table when it comes to serving up a good breakfast. The chicken makes a significant contribution, but the pig makes the real commitment.