China's phenomenal GDP growth of between 9 and 14 percent annually over the past decade slowed down last year and is forecasted by International Monetary Fund (NYSE:IMF) to be "only" 8.25 percent in 2012. Reduced investments in public projects and a cooling residential property market have resulted in a decline in the importation of sawlogs during the first six months of 2012.
Softwood log imports to China in the first and second quarter this year were 6.2 million m3 and 6.6 million m3, respectively, down from all-time high of 8.6 million m3 seen in the 3Q/11, reports the Wood Resource Quarterly (woodprices.com). The total imports for the first half of 2012 were 15 percent lower than during the same period last year, with the biggest declines occurring in shipments from Russia, the US and Australia. Western Canada is the only major supplier that has increased shipments so far this year; annual shipments may reach over 2.5 million m3, which would be a record high.
The reduced demand for logs in China has not only impacted import volumes, but also prices for domestic and imported logs. The average price for imported softwood logs was down 14 percent from 2Q/11 to 2Q/12. Prices for New Zealand radiata pine logs dropped the most, while red pine logs from Russia showed the smallest price drops as compared to other species of imported softwood logs.
Domestic log prices in China have also fallen over the past year, with Chinese-fir prices being down six percent year-over-year in the 2Q/12, according to the WRQ. Mongolian pine and larch prices were also lower by 8 and 16 percent, respectively.
Contrary to the recent downward price trend for softwood log, prices for domestic hardwood logs, including Eucalyptus, birch and poplar, have gone up this year and were close to, or at record-high levels in the 2Q/12.
Much uncertainty surrounds investment activities in the Chinese construction sector, private consumption in the country, and the demand for Chinese forest products in North America and Europe. If the assumption that the Chinese domestic consumption and private investments will improve somewhat in the 2H/12, as IMF forecasts, both softwood and hardwood log prices are likely to stop falling and instead increase slightly in the second half of 2012. This will benefit log and lumber export companies in Western US and Canada including timber landowners such as Rayonier (NYSE:RYN), Plum Creek (NYSE:PCL), Weyerhaeuser (NYSE:WY) and TimberWest (OTC:TMWEF) not only for exporting logs but also for increasingly selling sawlogs to domestic sawmills that exports lumber to the Asian market.
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