Early Bird Gets the Worm

Early bird gets the worm, even as some lumber traders reportedly abandon their offices for summer recess..

A glorious sunrise captured off my back deck in East Vancouver this morning.

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”).

Scribbles from the 2019 COFI Convention

1. Convention buzzwords: innovation, inclusion, sharing, partnerships, relationship, certainty, predictability, capacity (ability), conservation, caribou

2. “A new model of forest management.”
Doug Donaldson, Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development

3. “China-U.S. negotiations are only a small subset of the larger tensions.”
Robert Johnston, Managing Director, Global Energy & Natural Resources, Eurasia Group

4. “India and Southeast Asia will become more important for Canada’s forest sector than China.”
– Robert Johnston

5. “There are very few world leaders that are fierce defenders of globalization.”
– Robert Johnston on the “G-Zero World”

6. “Shareholders are having a stronger influence than governments on climate action – it’s very tough to get climate policy in a context of populism.” – Robert Johnston

7. “Where do we get growth from in the Canadian economy when the drivers are cooling? Productivity innovation.”
Jock Finlayson, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer, Business Council of B.C.

8. “We’re in a low interest environment for as long as the eye can see. How will policy makers respond next time we move into a recession world?”
– Jock Finlayson

9. “We have seen a dramatic decrease in consumption.”
Chris McIver, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, West Fraser

10. “The use of wood in appearance applications is growing.”
Don McGregor, Vice President of Sales & Wholesale Supply, Western Forest Products

11. “There were 487 mass timber projects in 2018. In 2013 there were five.”
Bart Bender, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Interfor

12. “It’s always easy to get a deal if you’re prepared to get a bad deal. This is not a good time, we’ll have to wait until the circumstances are right.”
David MacNaughton, Ambassador of Canada to the United States

13. “Consumer groups have very little political clout (in the U.S.). I’ve been very surprised in observing this fact.”
– David MacNaughton

14. “Nothing unites Republicans and Democrats more than unfair trade with China.”
– David MacNaughton

15. “The U.S. sells more goods to Canada than China, Japan, and Great Britain combined.”
– David MacNaughton

16. “Our relationships with the U.S. are strong and deep.”
– David MacNaughton

17. “The data lake is turning into the data swamp. Everything we do is about clarifying the complex.”
Charles Lavigne, CEO & Co-Founder, LlamaZOO

18. “How to build relationships with Indigenous communities? Go in without an agenda.”
JP Gladu, President & CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

19. “(On caribou recovery) there will be active engagement with communities (this week) and natural resource sector parties.”
Beth MacNeil, Assistant Deputy Minister, Canadian Forest Service

20. “Under the previous government, forestry was an engine that was allowed to take over. The status quo is not acceptable. There are high expectations for the industry to make changes.”
John Allan, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development

21. “We all know what the problem is in the Interior; we have too much capacity and too few trees.”
– John Allan

22. “There is desire on the public’s part to regain some control of forestry and the management of old growth on Vancouver Island.”
– John Allan

23. “We’ve lived up to our commitments (caribou recovery) but we’ve been a bit late coming to the communities.”
– John Allan

24. “I am shocked and disappointed by what is happening this week (in Chetwynd). Without consultation, how are we going to get through these cycles? It discourages future investment in B.C.”
Ted Seraphim, President & CEO, West Fraser

25. “I hope he (Horgan) talks about our industry in such a way that it attracts young people.”
– Ted Seraphim

26. “Government to government relationship is key in China. China values relationships even moreso. We can’t get complacent, we need to refocus, continue these trade missions to get the message to the Asian markets.”
Don Kayne, President & CEO, Canfor

27. “The biggest driver is wood costs. B.C. has the highest wood costs in North America. With B.C. as our base, we needed to expand, grow our diversification in Europe and the U.S. South.”
– Don Kayne

28. “Next year, the forest products industry is expected to have 7300 openings. Youth are the future of forestry, embrace them. Offer opportunity, growth, reasonable pay. Promote economic stability, work life balance, and social consciousness. Create a respectful and enjoyable workplace. If I identify and prove that there’s a better way to do something, will I be encouraged to pursue it?”
Fiona McDonald, Communications Specialist, Conifex Timber Inc.

29. “The problem with just posting a job is you skip the first two steps of the marketing funnel (Awareness and Interest, before Desire and Action). Get out in front of prospects rather than waiting for the prospect to come to you.”
Quinn Miller, Energy Engineer, West Fraser

30. “How to motivate young professionals? Engage new perspectives and break down barriers. Encourage mentorship and knowledge sharing. Support through continued learning and education.”
Ethan Griffin, Production Superintendent, Interfor

31. When we talk about reconciliation we need to reconcile our relationship. Consent does not mean veto. Consent is shared decision-making. We have to get to a place where we can make decisions together. The fibre basket is shrinking, the AAC is coming down everywhere. How do you want this arrangement? How do you want to access that fibre?”
Terry Teegee, Regional Chief, B.C. Assembly of First Nations

33. “It’s not about a final agreement. It’s about relationship, moving forward together.”
Celeste Haldane, Chief Commissioner, B.C. Treaty Commission

34. “It always amazes me how often I get asked the question ‘What’s the best way to start a relationship?’ Pick up the phone. There’s something that intimidates people about having that conversation.”
Doug Caul, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation

35. “At the Youth Outland Employment Camp (OYEP) West, Indigenous youth build confidence, establish networks, learn how to work both independently and as a group, and develop a keen understanding of workplace expectations.” See: 2018 OYEP sponsorsOYEP StatsOYEP West – 2019 Partnership Package
Derek Orr, Business Development Manager, Carrier Lumber

36. “The forest industry is the most innovative sector in our economy.”
John Horgan, Premier of B.C.

37. “A negotiated settlement (SLA) would have been preferable, but that’s not possible.”
– John Horgan

38. “(On coastal forest revitalization) we’re not going to just take down our forests to move them down to other jurisdictions where they can extract the value.”
– John Horgan

39. “The situation in the Interior is deteriorating but there are opportunities. We’ll approach it TSA by TSA. How do we add value, not how do we allocate timber supply. It’s about how do we take our dwindling fibre basket and maximize the value. The process is evolving but it is not prescriptive; if I prescribed a solution it would be inadequate.”
– John Horgan

40. “I always talk about value-added and (the big producers) say ‘we can smell the incense when you start talking that way.. we need markets!”
– John Horgan

41. “More high value, less high volume. I’m going to give you the incentives you need to transition between high volume and high value. These are opportunities, not obligations. It’s on you to take this challenge.”
– John Horgan

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)

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