After a healthy 2013 and early 2014, lumber markets in the US started weakening in the spring with lumber prices falling over ten percent so far this year. The reduced lumber prices together with lower demand for US logs in Asia in the second quarter have put downward pressure on US sawlog prices so far this year.
The sawmilling sector in the US has been in a steady comeback mode ever since the global financial crisis struck in 2008. From 2009 to 2013, production has gone up every year, and the total production increased 28 % over this four-year period, at about the same pace in the South and the West. During the first quarter of 2014, production fell in the South by 1.1% as compared to the same period in 2013, while production was up 2.1% in the West (most in the Inland region).
Both lumber export from and imports to the US have gone up in the 1Q/14 year-over-year. Export volumes were up 18 % with the biggest increases in shipments to China (+73%) and Mexico (+6%). Importation of lumber increased five percent in the first quarter with Canada (+6%) and Germany (+104%) accounting for the biggest volume gains compared to the 1Q/13.
The recent price trend for lumber in North America has been downward after sharp increases last summer and fall. Prices in May this year were down between 8-17%, depending on species, from their recent peak in the beginning of the year.
Healthy log export markets to Asia during the first quarter this year and increased lumber production along the West coast resulted in continued upward price pressure on sawlogs in the US Northwest in early 2014. In the 1Q/14, Douglas-fir log prices reached their highest level since 2006 and prices for hemlock logs were at an 18-year high. The dramatic price swings in Western US the past five years stand in sharp contrast to the US South, where average prices have only moderately adjusted upward from 2009 to the 1Q/14.
With the demand for logs from both domestic sawmills and the export market in Asia weakening during in the second quarter, sawlog prices started to fall back in both the South and the West after having trended upward for over three years. In May, prices for sawlogs were down between 5-15%, depending on species and region, as compared to the beginning of the year.
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