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

Live at The Pond: Five Questions for Guillaume Pelletier

Thomas on Dispatch – Guillaume’s 16-month old son

Harderblog recently caught up with reload operator extraordinaire Guillaume Pelletier, Vice President, RCP Transit Inc.
Dakeryn Industries has enjoyed a strong working partnership with RCP Transit since 1995.

1) How have Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) impacted truck capacity at RCP Transit?
Right now, we’re handling the same volume as we were doing before the ELD – but differently. Drivers can’t lose time anywhere, they’re running like crazy! As soon as they move the truck, the clock starts; they have 14 hours to complete their day (11 hours of driving + three hours work/on-duty). It’s changing the way they’re driving.

2) Changing in what ways?
Before ELD, drivers could stop to eat, take a shower, do maintenance – now they need to sleep 10 hours in a row! I never sleep 10 hours! I used to have 9 out of 10 drivers sleeping in their truck – now I have three out of 12. And we need to pay extra. Truckers are leaving the reload earlier in the morning, deliver by noon, p-up their log and come back home by 17:00/18:00. My mechanic needs to work overnight or on the weekend. I need more trailers since we don’t have anyone to load at night anymore. I had to hire an extra local driver only to deliver all the back hauls. It’s costing big money.

3) In the face of the ELD mandate, what is RCP Transit doing to be a “U.S. truck shipper of choice”?
We have changed the way we dispatch – it’s hard to explain. Overall, improved communication with customers. Our hours of service for truckers have been fully optimized. It’s more work on the dispatch side, but we have good partnerships in place.

4) How about freight rates?
We’ve been running with the same freight rates out of both our reload locations in Coaticook, Quebec and Island Pond, Vermont, for almost five years. But last week we announced higher freight rates effective June 1st. We probably should have increased rates six months ago, but our goal was to run with the existing rates at least through Q1 to accurately determine what was needed. We want to stay as competitive as possible to continue to grow the business – but waiting until now to raise rates has cost us significantly more then I was expecting! With our trucking company, we were probably short $80,000 for the first three months of the year. We were expecting to handle 20% less loads per week, but that never happened. So we’re handling the same number of loads, but driver salaries are up 20%, our insurance costs are up 30%, and fuel is going totally crazy! Unfortunately those expenses are out of our control.

5) Any shipping relief in sight?
There are fewer truck drivers every year. People are desperate for trucks! Right now there is such a shortage of trucks, people are calling us non-stop everyday. You wouldn’t believe it! We cover one out of every five loads we’re offered. It’s not easy refusing business everyday. The worst part is I am losing my broker. And prices continue to climb. For example, Montreal to Plainfield, CT a truckload of steel pays around $2000.00. How can we compete with that?

Related: America doesn’t have enough truckers

RCP Transit’s Reload in Island Pond, VT

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?

Corrections

Markets have a way of redefining terms of the trade. Hot markets lend tolerance to ‘prompt shipment’. Market corrections, not so much. These days, ‘just in time delivery’ comes with caveats such as ‘subject to availability of trucks’. Market conditions present unique challenges to guarding supplier/customer relationships. Some have suggested that markets, like politics, frame questions of definition around who holds the power. In some instances, that is known to shape performance strategies in relation to commitment around short run versus long run considerations. It’s suggested that the transactional approach is not the most desirable for building enduring relationships among customers or voting constituents. A favourite response from one supplier known to be under pressure on late shipments: “In the end we’ll all get to heaven”. We’re in it for the long run, but we appreciate that even our most valued, understanding customers’ patience is stretched when lumber ready for delivery is awaiting wheels.

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Saint John, NB (20 Nov 2017)