Market Ripe for Picking?

Is the lumber market ripe for picking? Who knows. Unfortunately this week’s picking readiness signalled by my backyard apple tree’s bumper crop offers little guidance. Unlike apples dropping from a tree, falling lumber prices can’t be sure of where ground level support intervenes.

Google offered up helpful information that prompted this week’s timing to invite friendly volunteers from the Vancouver Fruit Tree Project Society to come set up their step ladders:

Wait for a couple of apples to fall from the tree. Apple trees naturally drop their apples when they are ripe in order to self-seed and reproduce. Watch for an apple or two to drop from the tree to determine if they are ready to pick.

When your apples are ripe, they should be fairly easy to pick from the tree with a simple upward twist of the apple. Try to avoid picking an apple by pulling the fruit straight down and tugging.

If otherwise healthy fruits begin to fall off the tree, they are probably beginning to get a little too ripe and should probably be harvested as soon as possible.

Now if only Google could offer up unambiguous harvest-time signals for lumber inventory managers.

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

Lumber Market Upset?

The tensions of upsets in World Cup soccer matches are enjoyable. Market corrections that create upsets and tension, not so much.

The market adage that “nothing goes up forever” is presently shaping harsh realities in lumber prices. After peaking at $583 June 5th, the Framing Lumber Composite Price in the June 19th Random Lengths Midweek Report softly logged in at $562. Lumber Futures down $120 since the May contract expired (HT: @LumberTrading). Buyers and sellers of wood are experiencing Isaac Newton’s 400 year-old law that “an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless an external force acts on it.” Traders may be wondering what external forces will come into play to reverse the market’s present downward motion. Will it be another summer of devastating wildfires? Curtailed production? Underlying strengths of construction activity? More transportation woes?

In the meantime, we’ll look forward to teeing it up with distinguished representatives from Canfor, Carrier, Conifex, Dunkley, Hampton, Interfor, Millar, Sinclar, and Teal-Jones – all joining local retailers and staff members here tomorrow – for the mighty Dakeryn Golf Tournament at Riverway Golf Course in Burnaby, BC.  — “FORE!!”

The sidewalks were deserted, the lobby was the same;
The place looked dark and dreary, except one window pane.
Behind it sat a weary man, his head held in his hand;
His face was steeped in anguish as he peered across the land.
He saw the blue Willamette that glimmered from afar,
But his mind was sorely burdened by an unsold transit car.

He snapped it up in early May when things were looking right,
And got the mill to ship it, but not without a fight.
It was a steal at seventy-two, his hopes were raised on high;
But lo when first he offered it, the dealers passed it by.
He shrugged and bade the railroad boys to slow her down a twist,
Then doubled up his efforts to get it off his list.

– Excerpt from “The Office Wholesaler
(Author unknown – can anyone identify? circa 197_?)
Hat Tip: Ian White, Dakeryn Industries

Looking for the Leaderboard with Glen Sawkins, Sales Manager, Dunkley Lumber Ltd. (21 June 2018)

Source: NAHB (June 21, 2018)

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

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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Bigfoot Blame

Clearcut logging in BC’s Bigfoot country is the latest explanation ascribed to trackers’ inability to pin down sasquatch in the woods. According to reports in today’s Vancouver Sun, a sasquatch tracker out of Golden, BC aims to take the provincial government to court to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt (or a guy in a gorilla suit) that the legendary creature roams the BC wilderness.

In a civil lawsuit filed in BC Supreme Court on Monday, it’s reported the BC Ministry of Environment and BC Fish and Wildlife Branch is charged with “dereliction of duty pertaining to the interests of an indigenous wildlife species.” The plaintiff suggests that logging played a role in disappearance of the hairy beast’s natural habitat. Some wonder if impending Halloween tricksters might scare the creature into view. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, for traders returning from back-to-back Forest Products Conferences in the Northeast this week, sometime seemingly invisible realities shaping lumber markets may be coming into view. When the busy LBM Advantage show concluded Tuesday in Baltimore, vendors boarded rail cars for Philly to attend a jampacked LMC Expo Wednesday and Thursday. Key takeaways from the Dakeryn tabletop visits? The market’s hot and the supply chain is fractured. No Halloween costumes can disguise it. Moreover, rumours are swirling the duty timeline is aggressively moving up. Traders wonder if countervailing duties on cross-border shipments will now be in effect as soon as mid-November. In midst of the unprecedented wildfire season in BC, could free-of-char (FOC) lumber be tax-exempt? While perception among some US lumber retailers suggests that duties are beneficial to their bottom line, at least one major dealer struggling for supply described the ongoing softwood lumber dispute as “bizarre”.

Lumber Market Pricing

“What’s going to stop this market?!” is among the questions that lumber traders are pondering these days. Could softwood negotiations be the determining factor? What if the U.S. Department of Commerce throws out the case? More weather-related factors? This time, snow? Salvage logging? Traders taking a position, a stand, …or, a knee?

Back in 1994, when Michael Carliner was Staff VP for Economics at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), he wrote What’s Driving Lumber Prices?. In the article, it’s noted that changes in inventory levels create expectations on future levels of activity. It’s accepted that expectations about future supply and demand are key determinants in short-term behaviour of market participants. We’re told that rising prices, such as have been experienced, may of themselves create expectation of further price increases, causing speculative behaviour.

Carliner points out that historically, prices of lumber have not increased gradually with increased demand and constrained supply. Instead, data suggests an erratic pattern of booms and busts that are largely attributable to changes in expectations about future supply. Historically when supplies were not so uncertain, changes in housing statistics and other demand factors were reportedly less pronounced in their impact on short-term market pricing. We’re told that price spikes occurred when market participants were subject to uncertainties in policy, litigation impacting trade, plus the many additional factors that historically impact timing between a tree being felled and being delivered as lumber to market.

What’s different now?

The run-up in lumber prices over the past few months contains some short-term speculative elements, but the underlying trend is toward higher average prices.
– Michael Carliner, Housing Economist (January, 1994)

On this National Tree Day, any image of a tree is music to our ears! Hat Tip: Al Harder (Source: boredpanda.com)

Talk About the Weather

On the heels of the worst wildfire season in memory, a continent braces for reportedly the most dangerous hurricane ever. There’ll be time later to cast all this talk of weather in relation to climate change. For now, the impact on human lives is of foremost concern. Even so, lumber traders try to make sense of the variables that shape lumber markets thrown into unpredictability by virtue of trade talk uncertainties and subject to more volatility by forces of nature.

The reporting of Random Lengths since July (see excerpts from Random Lengths Lumber Market Reports below) suggests that traders sensed greater downside market risks heading into September. Pricing trends in evidence this week suggest the opposite to be true. We’ll share buyer caution in interpreting the changes that shape lumber markets this fall. Hazarding pricing forecasts seems especially risky for the remainder of this year. A recent posting we noted on a Vancouver church sign this week might have been aimed as a caution at bloggers and lumber reporter forecasters: “If pride comes before a fall, we should see humility by winter.”

July 21
“Some traders pointed to the gap in the application of the preliminary CVD on Canadian imports that starts August 26, hoping that prices would ease with no CVD in place.”

July 25
“While some quicker loads developed, mills widely quoted shipments for the weeks of August 14 and 21. Buyers were leery of booking into or beyond those weeks. They cited the coming pause in the countervailing duty, a steep discount in September futures, and quicker shipments from secondaries.”

July 28
“But the coming pause in collection of countervailing duties starting in late August, and the possibility of a lumber trade deal between the U.S. and Canada, left traders sensing downside price risk in the weeks ahead. Many turned to secondaries to fill holes in inventories.”

Aug 1
“With the preliminary CVD only in effect through August 25, buyers of Canadian S-P-F showed an increased fear of downside risk. The futures market’s huge discount to cash gave buyers another reason for caution.”

Aug 4
“Buyers maintained the view that purchases at current levels in advance of the onset of the gap in the countervailing duty carried risk. Producers, meanwhile, were largely content to limit sales to the U.S. until the gap starts, if not stack production until then.”

Aug 8
“Buyers anticipated downside in Canadian lumber amid the gap coming in the CVD. Reports circulated that shipments could be CVD-free as early as August 14.”

Aug 11
“Trading slowed as buyers’ sense of the market turned more bearish. Numerous factors weighing on the market generated uncertainty, which in turn led to a cautious approach. Topping the list was the coming pause in the countervailing duty, and anticipation that Canadian mills could lower prices with the nearly 20% CVD suspended.”

Aug 15
“A bearish tone grew more prevalent in softwood lumber and structural panel markets. Near record prices in many markets kept buyers only purchasing enough to fill in inventory, amid increasing fears of downside risk. Traders awaited next week’s countervailing duty gap period.”

Aug 18
“Dealers, distributors, and office wholesalers were reluctant to purchase more than immediate needs. They cited current price levels, the suspension of the preliminary CVD, and a slowdown in consumption as key reasons to hold back.”

Aug 22
“Buyers grew more concerned about downside risk and delayed purchases as long as possible. The pause in the countervailing duty on Canadian shipments to the U.S. takes hold at the end of the week, causing further fear.”

Aug 25
“Buyers anticipated opportunities to buy Western and Eastern S-P-F at lower levels with the August 25 arrival of the CVD-free period. Producers, however, proved to be far less vulnerable than buyers anticipated.”

Aug 29
“Monday’s announcement by the Commerce Department of a two month delay in the final determination of the countervailing and anti-dumping duty cases drove many buyers to the sidelines, waiting to determine a market direction.”

Sept 1
“Activity in S-P-F markets picked up Wednesday and Thursday once buyers digested news on the CVD case and returned to the market.”

Sept 8
“Many buyers.. scrambled for coverage, having held off for weeks in anticipation of a pullback once the pause in the countervailing duty on Canadian shipments to the U.S. commenced. Many were wary of booking loads past September at current prices.”

Log flume – Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (North Vancouver, BC)

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