A New Year Brings Cautious Optimism to the Market…Very Cautious
We finally have the official start to the 2024 business season with our first full week underway.
The disjointed Christmas/New Year celebratory time has passed and with it, there is a sense that most in the business community are excited to get back to a normal pace and start to think about what the true outlook for 2024 will look like.
As we start our current week, there seems to be a continuation of a trend we’ve seen that followed through much of November and December if we take a step back for a hard look at things. Consumers continue to buy sporadically and cautiously, not willing to step into much more than they need but buying to fill immediate-term needs to protect from potential upside. They are also thinking there may be potential downside risk as well so they don’t want to be caught with too much inventory.
This same pattern has continued for some time and perhaps we’re in the last couple of weeks of it as many want to see how the mills and supply side react getting out of the highly curtailed holiday season.
On the flip side, however, we continue to see relative tightness in the market overall and mills remaining relatively firm on their pricing, falling back on decent order files and thin inventory levels on lists.
We certainly have seen pockets of available product but the real bread and butter items have not been building on many mill lists. There are certainly many hot items that are challenging to find and mills are getting their number, which have crept up into the new year. This is giving hope that mills will be able to continue pushing numbers up as consumers come back to look at their purchasing needs with a little more authority.
Time will tell but we will be watching these next couple of weeks very closely to see how the market reacts to the continuation of relatively thin inventories without a big pick-up in demand seen yet.
Supply & Distribution Update
As some continue to return from holidays and kids are back in school, it was a quiet Monday to start the week. Mills nudged quotes higher as order files have been extended moderately. Modest price increases were posted for most items.
Uncertainty regarding current and near-term production levels at the mills kept buyers engaged. Supply in the market is just below average. Some items are harder to source than others while demand continues to be most prevalent for customers' immediate needs and is balanced with, or slightly outpacing, supply. This is largely due to the mildly higher and firm pricing in most items. Optimism for early-year prospects remains firmly intact.
Many distributors have seen more activity for inbound materials compared to outbound to start 2024. This is in line with the reported demand coming out of the holidays and to start the year. Distribution has yet to see any pressure and operates with idle capacity. This could soon change with the winter weather affecting road conditions causing just-in-time delivery/prompt shipments to become more challenging.
Outdoor labour significantly slows this time of year due to the freezing temperatures and operational processes that are extended. Buyers filling near-term needs will have to be aware of the seasonal changes and avoid running inventories too thin.
The movement of products within the transportation industry is currently operating with little disruption due to winter road conditions, but this will change. Heavy haul equipment performance in the freezing temperatures is below average and directly relates to extended lead times.
As demand grows due to extended lead times and transportation disruptions, so will the demand for available transportation to deliver products on schedule. It is a tough time of year for all transportation providers in North America, and buyers will need to keep this in mind when looking at their projected needs.
News We Are Following
B.C.'s Resource Industries Looking for 'Slivers of Hope' in the Year AheadDerrick Penner - Vancouver Sun
It could be a "transition year" in 2024 for resources in B.C., including the lumber market, as 2023 saw a slowdown that caused exports to fall. Some feel that the worst of the downturn is behind us as lumber trade in the province declined by 17% heading into the end of October with the value of exported lumber dropping 43% over the majority of 2023.
As Jake Power, CEO of Mission-based specialty sawmill Power Wood noted, “It’s a big question mark, 2024, I would say,” Power said. “You have this little bit of optimism that we’re all feeling at the moment because central banks are starting to get a little more dove-ish on interest rates.”
Housing Starts, U.S. and Canada, Not as Badly Battered as One Might ThinkAlex Carrick - ConstructConnect
High interest rates have caused the housing markets in both Canada and the U.S. to falter in 2023. November gave us a more normalized month of activity for residential groundbreaking in the U.S. However, although we have a levelling off, residential building permits, often viewed as a leading indicator, are not quite into bullish territory just yet.
In Canada, November housing starts continued to tumble with different regions offering their own numbers. The biggest laggard was Quebec as housing starts dipped by 35% in the province. Overall Canada was down just 8%.
Alberta's 2024 Wildfire Season Shaping Up as Repeat of Last Year: Dry, BigCraig Ellingson - CTV News
It has been a record year for wildfires in Alberta and when looking at the geography of the areas affected, it’s massive. David Philips, Environment and Climate Change Canada's senior climatologist explains, "The numbers are just absolutely mind-boggling. In terms of the area burned in Canada, you could take over half the countries in the world and fit them into that burned area in Canada, and you'd still have some burned area left over. Even in the United States, if you take all of the fires they've had in the last five years, it would still not equate to what we burned here in Canada." With less than 80% of the precipitation expected over the last 90 days, 2024 is primed to break the records just set for wildfires.
The dimensional market was reasonably quiet and flat last week, our first of the new year, which was shortened due to the holiday. Thin inventories that were apparent to finish 2023 weren’t going to suddenly be bursting at the seams in the first week coming into the new year so there was nothing surprising here.
The larger national mills continue to put out lists, usually with most items in the 2 to 4-week window for availability while moving numbers along with print up slightly.
The regional mills that did have items on the ground were asking for higher prices and perhaps not finding much success at those levels, but again they are content to sit back and not try to attract business by getting overly aggressive and lowering numbers. The same mills on a regional level continued to display a lack of tremendous availability, which helped their position to hold their prices relatively firm.
We did see print up on Western SPF across all dimensions, although not to a huge extent with nothing specific jumping out but there was a firm tone nonetheless to start the new year.
Pricing on 2x4 was up modestly on straight lengths, primarily in 12’ and 14’. We continue to see firmness in 4” and relative stability in the market.
Prices range within a relatively tight band. Some pricing is certainly being asked at quite a higher level from some of the smaller mills with limited inventories.
Again, we’re not seeing a lot of takeaway at those levels and we are still hearing that some loads are being taken or sold at significantly lower levels. They are very specific to tally and there is not much volume happening at those levels.
Look for 2x4 to remain firm with a slight upward feel at this time.
There was a little more strength on print for 6” to finish last week with everything except 12’ increasing at a high single- to low double-digit rate.
It continues to be relatively tight in the market again for 6” as we are not seeing robust inventories anywhere. We do feel that we will continue to see 6” firm and push up ever so slightly over the next couple of weeks as there is no anticipation of seeing a real increase in available inventories over the short term.
2x8 & 2x10
The market for 2x8, as well as 2x10, showed some firmness and we continue to see them being pulled along with the general market.
There is somewhat of a positive tone while we are not seeing much inventory on lists. There has been some popping up on a few of the bigger producers of the wides but those lists will be a bit spotty with certain holes. Those same mills continue to sell a reasonable amount, enough to hold firm and push prices up slightly.
Stability in the wides looks to remain at this point as we begin our new year.
There was some positivity on print for 2x12, although again, there was not a lot of activity happening on 12” and there does appear to be a little price spread there between some of the mill ask levels and print to move volume.
We see print pricing on 12” remaining stable but we will probably see a range on where activity is actually taking place.
Another week of steady demand, has the stud market exhibiting more of the same pace from weeks prior. Though the SPF market overall has shown some restraint entering 2024, mills continue to hold market momentum that gained traction before the holidays. Most are holding to prices, and selling at levels that were established two weeks prior with no evident increases so far this week.
Mill offerings remain slim with many lists exhibiting a mixed bag of offerings, while most mill order files have extended, now touching on 3 weeks for availability.
Purchasers looking to cover immediate needs will find prompt availability, both mill direct and through distribution channels, limited in the near term. Of all trims, 2x4 9’ for weeks now has remained the most challenging to source and continues to hold its premium pricing.
Availability in 2x6 8’ has appeared on lists more intermittently over the last 2 weeks but availability has waned much the same recently. All other trims, though somewhat sporadic, can be found with availability shipping 2-3 weeks or sooner.
As pricing has held this week, we can expect to see continued pressure for prompt material and mixed-load varieties. As demand has fallen more in line with limited supply, a renewed concern for potential downside risk is already being presented by many purchasers.
As fickle as the market remains, the extended gap in availability should see current demand held through much of January before mills will have to even begin to consider much in the way of pricing concessions.
The treated season is still a little ways away from a takeaway standpoint but for all intents and purposes, most of the business this is going to be done has been done from the treaters and the booking programs.
Product is flowing into the yards already and there’s a cautiously optimistic tone that takeaway will be relatively decent this year, likely similar to last year but with a little bit more activity anticipated.
The booking programs seem to be in line with last year’s volumes. We don’t anticipate seeing many issues with product availability to begin the season but if there is a stronger demand than anticipated, we could see a lot of yards looking to replenish earlier than anticipated. Time will tell here and we will certainly be watching closely as we get into the warmer weather.
There has been no real change with regard to MSR sales over the past week. Mills continue to sell whatever material they have for prompt shipment at their ask levels, but most customers aren’t willing to look too far ahead of their order files when it comes to putting inventory on the ground.
Both 2x4 and 2x6 2100 continue to be the big movers with longs being tough to source. Most mills are quoting material out 2-3 weeks, with the odd exception for 1-week delivery. Also, 2x8 MSR is still scarce with a lack of production. With that being said, we are seeing less production of MSR from some mills as most have reduced production over the past few months.
If there are specific items that you are going to need concerning MSR over the next month or so, we do still feel that there isn’t a lot of risk to getting that material covered sooner rather than later.
Douglas Fir & Larch MSR
We start the year where we left off in ’23, with pricing and availability from mills being conducive to buyer interest and a measure of renewed optimism in the lumber market as macroeconomic conditions continue to incrementally improve.
Pricing of DFL MSR has continued to show quiet strength and has generally held its value with mills generally getting their ask prices and keeping counters to their individual soft spots. The one clear soft spot is 2x4 1800, which has continued to slip $5 week to week. This is reflective of the volume of material available at the mills and current takeaway. The tightness in long lengths seen through the tail end of ’23 is less present in most items and continues to hold premiums on price.
On the end-user side, this week’s market has presented a broad range of inquiries on material as buyers assess current market conditions and work to cover their short-term needs. Order files through January have kept manufacturers' workforces in place. However, shifts have been somewhat reduced, which is typical for this time of year. Winter weather has come to most regions at last and has tempered the pace at which ongoing jobs are proceeding.
Mills continue to carefully manage their production and have found a balance between supply and demand in most cases. Mills lists are offering a broad range of available material, but volumes are fairly slim on some key items. Oversupply is not a significant concern currently. In fact, if activity picks up in the coming weeks, we may see additional pinches in overall availability as mills continue to tightly manage production. However, there are currently pockets of surplus lumber on some products at individual mills which will present opportunities for buyers.
As winter weather is upon the majority of the Western and Central North American markets, we may see some slowing in shipments. Consider adding a week to your anticipated delivery dates when covering your short-term needs to ensure timely delivery.
Contract loads continue to be the main source of supply, Mills have moved off slightly on cash offerings but are not willing to go below a level they have held for some time unless there is volume, which has yet to come to fruition to start the year. Mill order files remain prompt to the end of January.
A Western Canadian buying show has many curious to see what offerings may be available for next week when they attend.
OSB Continues to be strong with seemingly no end in sight on very limited cash availability. Mills in the West have commented that they expect this trend to remain. We don’t anticipate this changing quickly or any time soon. Order files are largely pushed into late February out of Western Canadian mills and prices are in firm standing.
There are different needs for different applications. Lumber quality varies from grade to grade and mill to mill. If you’re unsure about something, please contact a trader and we will assist.
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