20 Questions for 2020

Here are 20 questions that Harderblog will be watching this year, in search of answers:

    1. Will billionaire Jimmy Pattison succeed in taking Canfor private before his 92nd birthday on October 1, 2020?
    2. Will volumes of reduced fibre made available to sawmills from BC woodlands be outstripped by fibre consumed in Shredded Wheat?
    3. In this age of emerging technology, will tech gadgets surface that invite even lumber traders to investigate their perceived practical value?
    4. Will the US standoff with North Korea find resolution before the Softwood Lumber Dispute between Canada and the US?
    5. Will the financial bull markets of the last decade continue to roar in 2020?
    6. Will economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots show signs of narrowing?
    7. Will a recovery in lumber prices postpone more production curtailments and permanent sawmill closures in BC?
    8. Seedlings for forest revitalization in BC are forecast to rise from 270 million seedlings in 2019 to a record 310 million in 2020. How many trees will be planted?
    9. As the market for sustainable mass timber construction grows, how many more cross-laminated timber (CLT) plants will open in North America this year?
    10. Will shipment volumes of European lumber flood the Northeast US market as some analysts project?
    11. Is integrity still considered to be the core quality in evaluating services delivered by lumber wholesalers?
    12. Will the Broadway revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman later this year reprise its Tony winning best musical of 1957, when it enjoyed a run of 1375 performances?
    13. Will Home Depot succeed in reducing the rise in millions of dollars worth of goods stolen from the chain by organized criminals?
    14. In overtaking Toronto as the most expensive city in Canada, will Vancouver maintain that position in 2020?
    15. Will an old growth protection strategy be established in BC?
    16. Will there be significant evidence of steps being taken to counter negatives impacting climate change?
    17. Will there be a cooling in the ideological struggle that exploded in Hong Kong in 2019 between Hong Kong rule of law and Beijing rule of law?
    18. Will clues of democracy giving way to authoritarian governments become more pronounced in 2020?
    19. Will John Bolton publish a book that contains information deemed to include “explosive, new revelations”?
    20. Is Donald J. Trump still president at the end of 2020?

Year-end Answers

As we approach year-end, you’ll recall 19 questions for 2019 we posed one year ago at Harderblog:

1. Will the railways be better prepared for winter weather conditions?
If lumber prices are any gauge, yes. In 2018, extreme cold temperatures in Q1 severely reduced rail capacity, driving lumber prices to all-time highs in Q2, 2018. In Q1 2019, comparatively muted lumber prices suggest overall network capacity improved.

2. Will the extreme price volatility in lumber markets this year persist in 2019?
No. In 2018, the Random Lengths Framing Lumber Composite Price peaked at $583 (June 5) before shedding a whopping $245 over four expensive months riddled with false starts, before finally bottoming at $338 Oct 30. In sharp contrast, this year the gap between the composite high ($378 in Feb) and low ($320 in June) was narrow. The composite currently sits at $373. Random Lengths recently described lumber markets through much of 2019 as “challenging and fickle” (Dec 20).

3. Will Justin Trudeau still be Canada’s prime minister after Canada’s federal election scheduled on or before October 21, 2019?
Yes, barely. Canada’s Liberal party under Justin Trudeau’s leadership won 157 seats to form a minority government and lost the majority they had won in the 2015 election. Trudeau’s Liberals formed a government while receiving less than 35 per cent of the national popular vote, the lowest percentage of the national popular vote of a governing party in Canadian history. The Conservative Party remains the official opposition with 121 seats. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats. The New Democratic Party won 24 seats.

4. Will Donald Trump still be America’s president by the same date?
Yes.

5. Will Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden emerge as the leading Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 by the end of 2019?
Beto bid the race bye bye November 1 while polls still consider Biden the nervous front runner.

6. Will the 12 months of 2019 provide conclusive evidence that trade wars are “easy to win”?
Au contraire! Ongoing reporting reaffirms damaging, costly, induced complexities in play. While baby steps on resolving trade issues are reported, what’s been described by year end as a cold war on trade with China is evidence that “trade wars are not easy to win”.

7. Will noise about the border wall on the U.S. southern border have lessened by the end of 2019?
Yes, at least based on news reports beamed north of the 49th. Or, perhaps it’s simply being drowned out by ongoing competitive, attention-seeking noises spurred on by politics.

8. Will progress be reported in solutions for solving the opioid epidemic?
A US Center for Disease Control (CDC) spokesperson said provisional data and other reports signify that “progress is being made” in the opioid epidemic. According to the agency, the turnaround is said to be due to multisector efforts at the federal, state, and local level. USA Today reports progress here in the form of awareness. In BC, it’s reported here that through the first eight months of 2019, there was a 33% decrease in illicit drug toxicity deaths over the same eight-month period in 2018 (690 vs 1,037). Fentanyl was detected in more than 85% of overdose deaths in BC in 2018 and 2019. 

9. The American Psychiatric Association says anxiety levels jumped 7 per cent from 2017 to 2018. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among the American general population?
No. For the second year in a row, about two in three Americans say they are extremely or somewhat anxious about keeping themselves and their family safe, paying bills, and their health, according to a new national poll here by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

10. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among continent-wide lumber distributors?
A survey of at least one lumber distributor’s office personnel revealed that lumber traders’ cheerful, positive disposition has been subjected to anxiety levels at least comparable to the stresses of a year ago.

11. Will Canadian softwood lumber exports to China (dropping each year since 2014) continue to decline?
Yes. In discussions last week with Russ Taylor, Managing Director, FEA Canada, he reported while exports to China were up 5.7% in the first nine months of 2019 YOY, shipments slowed down significantly in Q2 and Q3 due to high inventories. Taylor projects Q4 shipments in 2019 to be off roughly 50% YOY, resulting in a 5-10% decline overall this year. “For 2020, I see further declines in Canadian softwood lumber exports to China. Not only are there reduced volumes of low grades from BC, the huge surge in European log exports from the massive salvage program (wind-damaged and beetle-killed) to China (about 6.5 million m3 expected in 2019 vs 1.5 million m3 in 2018) is expected to saturate the construction lumber market by lumber produced at domestic Chinese mills. Not only will this depress construction (low grade) lumber prices, the huge volumes of damaged European logs will also keep imported log prices at low levels. Already the BC Coast logging industry is shut down for cost and market reasons – the market reasons are the surge in European log shipments to China that have pushed higher priced (and costed) hemlock logs out of the China market.”

12. Will an old-growth protection strategy be established in B.C.?
Maybe next year. According to a BC government report Oct 23, “As part of government’s new approach to managing old growth in British Columbia, a two-person, independent panel is engaging British Columbians to get input and hear perspectives on managing the province’s old growth forests for ecological, economic, and cultural values.” In July, the government protected 54 old growth trees by placing a meagre buffer zone around each of them. The action, considered to be more symbolic than symbiotic here, was described by BC Forests Minister Doug Donaldson as “the first step in a broader old-growth plan.” The public, organizations, and professionals are encouraged to share their thoughts by January 31st here.  

13. Will the accelerating rate of climate change evidenced in 2018 be exacerbated by global climate patterns experienced in 2019?
This week the Canadian Press dubbed climate change the news story of the year. The tell-tale signs and impacts of climate change – such as sea level rise, ice loss, and extreme weather – increased during 2015-2019, which is set to be the warmest five-year period on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) here. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have also increased to record levels, locking in the warming trend for generations to come. Alluding to the challenge of meeting emission targets in a report this week here, Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Change Action Network Canada states “If we continue to ignore the root cause of climate change – extraction and combustion of fossil fuels – we’re going to keep missing the mark.”

14. Will the U.S. repeat as the FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions?
Yes. The U.S. defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the most-watched FIFA Women’s World Cup match ever (82 million viewers). Over the 52 matches played in nine host cities across France, the average live match audience was over 17 million viewers, more than double the 8.39 million average of Canada in 2015.

15. Will the record number of homeless people identified in the City of Vancouver’s 2018 Homeless Count be broken again in 2019?
Sadly, yes. Volunteers counted 2,223 homeless people in the city this year, the highest number since the annual count began in 2005.

16. Will 2019 have seen an economic recession?
A recession is defined by a fall in trade and industrial activity in two successive quarters as measured by GDP. So while a UN flagship report in September signaled a slowing economy being fed largely by binge deficit spending, no ‘recession’ was declared in 2019. The UN’s trade and development body, Unctad, said 2019 will endure the weakest expansion in a decade and there was a risk of the slowdown turning into outright contraction in 2020. Source

17. Will Brexit status be significant in determining whether Britain is “better off” at the end of 2019 than at the end of 2018?
The majority Conservative electoral win earlier this month was significant to the degree that it allowed PM Boris Johnson to put in motion UK withdrawal Agreement from the EU set for January 31, when the post-Brexit transition period will begin. For 11 months, the UK will still follow all the EU’s rules and regulations; it will remain in the single market and the customs union, and the free movement of people will continue. The challenge for the government will be to get all its new rules and policies in place by the end of 2020. The answer as to whether or not Britain is “better off” remains unclear.

18. Will European lumber deliveries to the U.S. decline in 2019?
“Interesting dynamics here,” said Russ Taylor last week, with Q4 data TBD. “Through September 2019, European imports are 4.3% below the pace of 2018 and slowed down significantly in Q3 vs Q2 this year – probably as a result of weak US prices. However, with the China market getting over supplied and US lumber prices rising in Q4, I expect European imports to increase. If they matched Q4 levels in 2018, that would put them even with 2019. However, with a glut of moderate quality logs and rising US prices, I expect that Q4 European shipments will be up significantly over Q3 levels, and even higher than Q4 levels from 2018, resulting in a small increase for 2019. In our just-released Global Sawmill Cost Benchmarking Report, the cost structure of the German and Czech mills has dropped by US$100/MFBM due to lower log costs (and more at some mills), allowing for easy access to the US market at very profitable levels. So I expect Central European exports to soar in 2020, especially if lumber prices improve (FEA forecasts a 10% increase over 2019).”

19. In view of lower lumber prices, will we see movement in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute?
No significant movement reported. When reached for comment, Susan Yurkovich, President and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries, confirmed “Sadly no. Litigation will continue.”

View from The Observatory, atop Grouse Mountain (early evening 27 Dec 2019)

19 Questions for 2019

Here are 19 questions that Harderblog will be watching next year, in search of answers:

1. Will the railways be better prepared for winter weather conditions?

2. Will the extreme price volatility in lumber markets this year persist in 2019?

3. Will Justin Trudeau still be Canada’s prime minister after Canada’s federal election scheduled on or before October 21, 2019?

4. Will Donald Trump still be America’s president by the same date?

5. Will Beto O’Rourke or Joe Biden emerge as the leading Democratic presidential nominee for 2020 by the end of 2019?

6. Will the 12 months of 2019 provide conclusive evidence that trade wars are “easy to win”?

7. Will noise about the border wall on the U.S. southern border have lessened by the end of 2019?

8. Will progress be reported in solutions for solving the opioid epidemic?

9. The American Psychiatric Association says anxiety levels jumped 7 per cent from 2017 to 2018. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among the American general population?

10. Will 2019 see a reduction in anxiety levels among continent-wide lumber distributors?

11. Will Canadian softwood lumber exports to China (dropping each year since 2014) continue to decline?

12. Will an old-growth protection strategy be established in B.C.?

13. Will the accelerating rate of climate change evidenced in 2018 be exacerbated by global climate patterns experienced in 2019?

14. Will the U.S. repeat as the FIFA Women’s World Cup Champions?

15. Will the record number of homeless people identified in the City of Vancouver’s 2018 Homeless Count be broken again in 2019?

16. Will 2019 have seen an economic recession?

17. Will Brexit status be significant in determining whether Britain is “better off” at the end of 2019 than at the end of 2018?

18. Will European lumber deliveries to the U.S. decline in 2019?

19. In view of lower lumber prices, will we see movement in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute?

Year-end Answers

As we approach year-end, you’ll recall 11 questions for 2018 we posed one year ago at Harderblog:

1. Will rhetoric of military strike pass the ‘tipping point’ into war with North Korea?
No.

2. Will the Bitcoin excitement be fading, or prove to be a bubble?
“For built into this situation is the eventual and inevitable fall. Built in also is the circumstance that it cannot come gently or gradually. When it comes, it bears the grim face of disaster. That is because both of the groups of participants in the speculative situation are programmed for sudden efforts at escape. Something, it matters little what – although it will always be much debated – triggers the ultimate reversal. Those who had been riding the upward wave decide now is the time to get out. Those who thought the increase would be forever find their illusion destroyed abruptly, and they, also, respond to the newly revealed reality by selling or trying to sell. Thus the collapse. And thus the rule, supported by the experience of centuries: the speculative episode always ends not with a whimper but with a bang. There will be occasion to see the operation of this rule frequently repeated.”
– John Kenneth Galbraith, A Short History of Financial Euphoria

3. Will the extreme weather patterns evidenced in 2017 be as pronounced in 2018?
According to The Washington Post, the extreme floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires that broke out this year across North America, Europe and Asia were unprecedented. In Canada, it’s reported no region was spared from extreme weather events; in B.C., 2018 was the worst wildfire season in history, beating the previous record set in 2017. The Weather Channel calls 2018 the year of the California wildfires.

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?
Who knows for sure, although reports suggest it’s less likely now than appeared to be the case at the beginning of 2018.

5. Has integrity lost some of its lustre as a perceived prerequisite for leadership success?
2018 – a year when we’ve been inured to shock! Many revelations, many developments unfolding still, lead us to believe that integrity remains a prerequisite for leadership success in the long run.

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?
It’s a combination of factors, including fibre supply and ongoing international trade/duty related concerns that has motivated major producers to seek out options for gaining better control over the variable factors that go into managing their operations. Contrary to Trump’s America First philosophy, these days the large integrated corporations recognize they have to think globally to be successful.

7. Will Germany repeat as FIFA World Cup champions?
No. Germany did not make it out of the Group Stage, finishing last in Group F which also included Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea. France won the 2018 World Cup, beating Croatia 4-2 in the final.

8. Will the powers that be acknowledge that the re-manufacturing (value-added) segment of the Canadian forest sector is being unfairly penalized in the application of the AD/CVD?
No. On re-manufactured specialty wood products, the cross-border Anti-dumping (AD) and Countervailing duties (CVD) continue to be applied to the selling (border) price instead of the first mill price. Freight and all processing costs are included in the AD/CVD calculation. The resulting, punishing impact of this application on the value-added segment of the Canadian forest sector has been described as “an unintended consequence” of the Softwood Lumber Dispute.

9. Will softwood lumber be incorporated into NAFTA?
Softwood lumber was not incorporated into NAFTA 2.0 which was signed November 30th but has yet to be ratified.

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?
No. On the heels of the epic, bull-trap riddled lumber market collapse from the record high prices reached in June, the “just-in-time” model has probably intensified.

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?
A not-so-random survey among lumber traders reveals that broccoli has been gaining in approval ratings among lumber traders and the general population this year. In fact a survey suggests that as of June 2018, broccoli took the lead as America’s favorite vegetable. While many vegetables consumed in the U.S. are imported from Mexico, broccoli is well down the list of imported vegetables.

Wooden It Be Loverly

“Wooden it be loverly”, words from My Fair Lady ring true to a lumber trader’s ear.. even though Professor Henry Higgins may say it’s meant to say “wouldn’t”.
Today, another ‘would‘-related story is music to our ears (see: Guitar maker champions use of local woods).

It’s the Vancouver International Guitar Festival, upcoming in early August. The Vancouver Sun reports that some of the world’s top luthiers will be on hand “to present guitars crafted entirely from local BC woods such as Sitka spruce, red cedar, curly maple – perhaps even reclaimed or salvaged woods.”

The “local wood challenge” holds particular interest here in BC, which reportedly supplies 80 per cent of the tone wood to the global guitar market. While Englemann and Sitka spruce are two of the province’s most sought-after species, Dave Nadin of Bow River woods in Chilliwack notes a growing interest in other domestic woods.

It’s reported that while earlier guitar shows highlighted flashier guitars made of rosewood and mahogany, demand for locally-sourced wood is on the rise with an eye to sustainability and protection of natural resources. We’re told it’s the way of the future. Meanwhile, as long as Willie’n the boys make music, would or wouldn’t not guitar afficionados trust the chords to ring true, no matter what lumber’s in play.

~~~

Images from a family hike in the woods last week at beautiful Golden Ears Provincial Park:

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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