The latest data from May 6 show US construction employment is up significantly. Likewise, the latest update from regional producers is that recent log cost increases in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) require similar increases in manufactured lumber prices. While no one in the North American lumber industry was celebrating sales volumes last week, the resurgence of demand and plumper sawmill order files were encouraging.
Over the last two decades, several trends have driven customer preferences and changes in demand for forest and paper products. As a result of these changes, demand for one of the forest industry’s seminal products—printing and writing papers—continues to decline rapidly; over the last decade, production of printing and writing papers has declined by 6% annually.
Beginning in 4Q2017, prices for domestic and export Douglas fir logs in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) rose steadily before they spiked in 2Q2018 to record levels. The phenomenon occurred when North American lumber prices also surged to record highs. While regional lumber producers in the PNW couldn’t fully capitalize on high lumber prices due to their equally high log costs at the time, producers in the US South were perfectly positioned to take advantage of the market and maximize profits.
Most “lumber talk” across North America over the last week has centered around the Montreal Wood Convention, a great event that draws the sawmill industry together every year. Attendees reported well-stocked inventories but a lag in production because deliveries to many parts of the US were stymied as severe flooding has taken over large swaths of the Midwest and the Northeast. Rail lines continue to flood and bridges are washed out all over the Midwest, so important transportation hubs like Memphis, TN, and Chicago, IL, are experiencing severe delays, backlogs and lack of rail car arrivals.
As I wrote in the first installment of this blog series, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the impacts that the Great Recession of 2008 had on the North American forest products industry. The sudden plunge of the housing sector had cascading effects that immediately influenced the entire global economy.