BREAKING NEWS

Some of us might wonder if the North American Wholesale Lumber Association risks upstaging CNN and Wolf Blitzer with BREAKING NEWS when the 2017 NAWLA Regional Meeting convenes in Vancouver next week. We can’t be sure of that. Although the anticipated public announcement of the U.S. Department of Commerce preliminary CVD ruling April 25th against Canadian softwood lumber imports is expected to draw a full house to the NAWLA gathering two days later, April 27th. An expert panel’s assessment of implications of the preliminary ruling is sure to attract heightened interest:

  • Jason Fisher, Associate Deputy Minister, Forest Sector at B.C. Ministry of Forests
  • Susan Yurkovich, President & CEO, B.C. Council of Forest Industries
  • Duncan Davies, President & CEO, Interfor Corporation

For more information, visit the NAWLA Vancouver Regional Meeting webpage here.

Update from NAWLA (April 25):  The 2017 Vancouver Regional Meeting has reached capacity and is unable to accept additional registrants at this time. The wait list for this event is also now full. Only those who are on the attendee list will be granted access to this event.

COFI Countdown

The sold out COFI 2017 Convention kicks off at 6:30pm this evening with an ice breaker in the stunning wood-infused architecture of the Vancouver Convention Centre. The largest gathering of the forest sector in Canada, we’re told over 600 delegates are registered this year, making this the biggest COFI Convention in ten years. The annual meeting brings attention and awareness to the significance of forestry to the economic well-being of the province. This year’s theme is Forestry for the Planet. Forest Products for the World.

The convention’s jam-packed itinerary ensures plenty to capture our attention through Friday. Tomorrow’s keynote speaker is renowned architect Michael Green who will present Increments of Change: from early tall wood buildings to a global movement. I’m also looking forward to the International Markets Review in the morning, and an afternoon CEO panel featuring Nick Arkle (Gorman Group), Duncan Davies (Interfor), Don Kayne (Canfor), and Ted Seraphim (West Fraser). On Friday, David Emerson, BC Trade Envoy to the United States, will discuss Canada’s Trade Negotiations Agenda with Kirsten Hillman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Trade Policy & Negotiation, Global Affairs Canada.

There’s a ton of other interesting panel discussions before we hear from BC Premier Christy Clark, keynote speaker at Friday’s closing luncheon. Speaking of politics, it’s interesting today to look back in the blog archives at Premier Clark’s keynote at the COFI 2013 Convention, a fiery speech which seemingly sparked her campaign’s comeback, leading to a surprise victory in the provincial election the following month.

A good preview of the COFI 2017 Convention is available in the podcast below. It includes a number of hard-hitting caller questions for Susan Yurkovich, COFI President & CEO. My 23 takeaways from last year’s excellent COFI Convention in Kelowna are available here.

Weathering Climate Change

How long before we can expect to see palm trees lining Vancouver boulevards?

It’s expected that shifts in climate will see trees normally associated with warmer climes finding comfort levels farther north. The Vancouver Sun reports here that according to a new study called Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver, “changes in temperature and precipitation will affect everything from sewage pipes to ski hills.” Local trees will be poorly adapted to the rising temperatures and elevated disease pressures.

According to Genome British Columbia, foresters have three options for dealing with climate change: reforest with the same species but with trees that are better adapted to warmer climates; move species further north or to higher elevations; or select and breed trees that can better withstand climatic stresses or disease. This news release from Genone British Columbia is an interesting read. We’re told the CoAdapTree project, which involves revolutionary testing by a genomics research team at UBC led by Dr. Sally Aitken, Forest & Conservation Sciences, will ultimately lead to better reforestation strategies for western Canada’s changing climates.

Climate change isn’t just bad for trees. It’s also bad for the economic and environmental benefits they provide to Canada – benefits like wood, jobs, habitat protection, and carbon sequestration. CoAdapTree: Healthy trees for future climates, will provide recommendations for climate-based seed transfer policy to guide foresters in planting trees that will be healthy in new climates in western Canada. Climate-based seed transfer can result in up to 30% greater timber yields, with a proportional impact on the economy and employment, and will also sustain ecological and environmental benefits of forests.

Tiptop

It’s been said that economics is an imperfect science. So it is that sometimes even lumber market forecasts have been known to be less than perfect. In some aspects related to the woods business, accuracy can be critical – as in when you’re aiming to fall a towering Douglas Fir that’s been growing in your backyard for a century. Unfortunately due to root rot, this giant had to be removed in Langley on Thursday. We can appreciate there was little margin for error. Some days are like that. Thanks to Duke and Tracey for the video!

Buried Treasure

These days much of what constitutes Vancouver’s crazed real estate scenario is taking shape around the urban False Creek shoreline. Glassed-in condo towers in various stages of completion compete with new, nearby downtown towers, including one named Trump. This week I chanced upon what’s at the bottom of much of what’s going up around False Creek; buried treasure from years gone by. Logs. Huge logs.

In what was the industrial heart of Vancouver, over a dozen sawmills, planing mills, shingle mills and wood preserving plants once operated on this 66 hectare strip of waterfront land called Pacific Place. According to the BC Ministry of Environment, most of this land was created by filling in False Creek with construction debris, industrial waste, and fill from other downtown Vancouver building sites. According to the Pacific Place Remediation Project, studies conducted at Pacific Place show that the volume of fill material is enormous – more than two million cubic metres (enough to fill two BC Place-sized stadiums to the rim). The fill is up to 13 metres deep in some areas along the existing shoreline.

Construction workers and even one pedestrian lumber trader were amazed to note the size of some of the buried logs uncovered during present excavations for The Arc Vancouver condo tower on Expo Boulevard at the foot of the Cambie Street bridge. Interesting stories abound on the history of coastal sawmills and the forest industry that was the early economic engine in these parts.

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~Musical Refreshment~

15% Cooling RE Tax

From early reports, BC’s new tax for foreign buyers effective August 2nd sent a chill through the real estate industry on many levels. Government data this week indicates that from June 30 to July 14, foreign buyers accounted for 15% of all real estate sales in Metro Vancouver. So it makes sense that imposition of the tax would tend to cool the overheated market. Still to be determined though is the extent to which wider ripples might be felt in outlying areas. At the same time concerns are reportedly being expressed over clarification of imposition of the tax on contracts that are works in process.

It is also a natural progression of the underlying asset, in this case real estate, which has become too expensive for the consumer to buy. In a competitive system, people will find creative ways to finance the boom. For it to continue, they must find ways to financially engineer it. All seems good during the boom times, then something, somewhere, comes out of left field, and the balloon gets pricked, never to reinflate in that manner again. Everything that seemed so sane, all of a sudden seems so totally insane. As Warren Buffett says: “You don’t know who’s swimming naked till the tide goes out.” For now, all is good in fairy-tale land, but this level of speculation has the ability to destroy the dreams of people for the next 20 years.

Vancouver real estate recently broke all records for volume. People can’t get enough. This is yet another necessary bubble component. Volumes are always highest at the top, never at the bottom. The panic to get in creates a gaping hole of demand in the future. For instance, let’s say over the next five years 100,000 people would normally buy real estate based on their family needs and other factors. The great euphoria and subsequent price rise, however, sucks that demand into this year, and it can be seen readily with today’s high volumes and skyrocketing prices. Who’s left to buy two years out? There has already been a massive flight of capital out of China of over $1 trillion. Will that continue endlessly? Of course not, the Chinese government will stop that at some point, leaving the locals of Vancouver and eastern Australian cities holding the bag.
– Thompson, Bob The Anatomy of a Housing BubbleMacleans Magazine. 21 May 2016

Housing’s Business Model

My blogpost in early 2013 pointed to a news story about Blackstone, the largest private real estate owner in the United States. It was reported that in 2012 the company had begun spending $100 million a week buying houses. By 2013, those purchases had accelerated to acquire more than $2.5 billion in rental properties. See: Accelerated Purchases and related post All in.. On the U.S. Housing Recovery.

It’s interesting to learn this week Blackstone have in total amassed about 50,000 rental houses in the past four years. Housing as a commodity. But having first developed and adapted strategies as a buyer/landlord, the company is now adapting to changed market circumstances to become a seller. We’re told the company is beginning to sell “properties that have soared in value or no longer fit their business models”. Under a program called “Resident First Look”, renters get first look, enabling Blackstone “to benefit from having its own pool of ready buyers who are constrained by a market starved for affordable homes”.

On a related note, it’s revealing to see this list of price-to-rent ratios for American cities. According to Investopedia, a price-to-rent ratio of 1 to 15 indicates it’s much better to buy than rent, 16-20 suggests it’s typically better to rent than buy, and 21 or more means it’s much better to rent than buy. For example, with ratios below the 19.2 national average, a number of Texas markets are presently very favorable to homebuyers.

Observers of the bewildering real estate picture, in especially hotspots like Toronto and Vancouver (where the price-to-rent ratio is 55 in the east of the city and 72 on the westside), might be wondering how these patterns of housing dynamics could play out down the road in Canada.