Optimism Still Felt But When Will the Activity Materialize?

We are coming off the heels of the Canadian May long weekend so it’s a shortened week for many on this side of the border to try and play catch-up.

It ended up being a fairly muted end to last week after some had hoped we would continue to see a little bit of momentum. We would suggest that it was mostly quiet with some followthrough and continuation on takeaway, although probably not at the levels many mills were hoping for as they attempted to build some positivity into this market overall.

We continued to see modest counters on prompt available material from some of the national mills. Again, in a similar fashion, for items that were out a little further, there was certainly more pushback on the numbers. This trend looks to continue as mills are trying to draw some form of line in the sand as to how low they will go, limiting the movement on pricing to only the most promptly needed material to move.

Consumer sentiment continues to be mixed. We still hear customers making comments about some anticipated positivity and an upward tick in takeaway that could set in over the near term. However, we have been hearing these statements for a while now and some of the frustration is that we are not seeing them materialize as quickly as one would hope. At this point, we feel that we will continue to stumble along with demand through the balance of May and into June.

Although there is the belief that we might start to see an uptick in activity, we don’t get the sense that it will be a giant push all at once. Perhaps it will be a slow and steady movement up that will be gladly sought after at the mill level as they continue to try to find balance in this marketplace.


Supply & Distribution Update

Overall market activity through last week was modest but steady. The majority of North American mills continued to manage production volumes in bringing additional balance against current levels of demand. While SPF supplies have remained largely balanced and DFL mills have continued to keep a short leash on production, there have been comments that SYP producers could be doing more to curb production as supplies continue to outpace demand.

Manufacturers and builders across Canadian and American markets have reported improvements in their order files and positivity on what the next month will bring for business. However, there remains little urgency to source coverage beyond the next 4-6 week’s needs.

Lumberyard inventories remain tightly managed in ongoing efforts to reduce carrying costs, although some have demonstrated a willingness to step out beyond immediate needs where there is a perception of value on the most frequently turned items.

Distribution activity out of Canadian reloads slowed somewhat last week leading into the Victoria Day long weekend and may be seen stateside as we head into the Memorial Day long weekend in the USA. Shipment appointments are widely available. It is worth noting that material availability out of distribution has become somewhat tighter as many buyers continue to utilize this option on smaller volumes and replenishment has remained cautious.

US transportation authorities conducted a series of safety blitzes through the last week but no slowdowns in logistics were noted and loads of lumber continued to move across North America unencumbered.

Significant rainfall has been seen across much of Canada’s western lumber harvesting regions, dampening immediate concerns about the impact on the supply and distribution of lumber products in and out of Canadian markets.

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British Columbia Changes Building Code to Permit More Mass Timber

Equipment Journal

With an update to the building code in B.C., mass timber construction, which is now in effect, enables encapsulated mass timber construction limits to increase to as high as 18 storeys for both residential and office buildings. This is an increase from the previous 12-story limit.

The new code also encompasses new building types, including schools, libraries, retail, light- and medium-industrial occupancies and care facilities.

“These changes will help reduce carbon pollution, support the forestry sector, create jobs, build more homes and lead to more vibrant communities,” said Ravi Kahlon, the province’s Minister of Housing.

“This is another step forward for British Columbia’s world-class mass-timber sector as we continue to accelerate the adoption of this strong, clean building technology,” said Jagrup Brar, Minister of State for Trade, and chair of the Mass Timber Advisory Council.

“Through our Mass Timber Action Plan, we are diversifying both our forestry and construction industries to build a strong, clean and sustainable economy that works for people.”

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Housing Starts for April 2024

CMHC

The month of April saw a 1% month-over-month decline in housing starts with urban centres dropping 9% across the country.

“Both the SAAR and Trend of housing starts decreased in April as did the actual number of starts, largely driven by fewer multi-unit starts, particularly in Ontario. The multi-unit volatility observed in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal in recent months is unsurprising as we continue to see last year’s challenging borrowing conditions reflected in multi-unit housing starts numbers. We expect to see continued downward pressure in these large centres,” said Bob Dugan, CMHC’s Chief Economist.

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Alberta Sets Record with Housing Boom

CFI Staff

Alberta appears to be bucking the housing trend that is pinning down much of Canada with nearly 14,000 new starts in the early part of this year.

This is a historic pace for the province which is being driven by population expansion and more effective construction methods.

April alone gave Alberta 3,816 housing starts with one-third of that being rental units, which is a 60% increase over April 2023.

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Investment in Building Construction, March 2024

Statistics Canada

The latest numbers show a month-over-month 4.5% investment increase in building construction for March. Upon closer review, investment in single-family homes climbed while all components in non-residential were also contributors to the upswing.

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Dimensional Lumber

Summary

The dimensional market had a relatively lacklustre feel overall last week. It was somewhat stable with some items trying to push up ever so slightly, and for the most part, we’re not seeing much downside pressure overall across most of the dimensional marketplace.

Again, as we said, there was some motivation at the mill level, and there is certainly still some motivation creeping up through wholesale and distribution to move product. Those who perhaps had a position that was a little heavier than they would have liked were still getting a little aggressive at pricing below mill ask levels. Others had firmed up their numbers feeling that they did not want to sell at unattractive levels, hoping rather to hold their position in the near term to see some slight appreciation.

2x4

Print on 2x4 was relatively flat. We did see a slight upward move on 10’, 14’, and 16’. However, overall, we would suggest that there really wasn’t much movement in 4”.

There continues to be reasonable availability across 4” in various quality levels. National mill order file seems to be decent, but lists do show a mix of some prompt availability all the way to 3 and 4 weeks out.

Regional-level mills continue to produce and sell at a spotty pace. Pricing for most regionals continues to be above print with a range in pricing to try to navigate where market levels truly are.

We are not seeing much downside push for the week on 2x4, but again, it’s hard to make the case that we’ll see an upside as well. Flat is likely to be the best we will see as we head into the U.S. long weekend.

2x6

On print, 2x6 was relatively flat with 10’ and 14’ down a few dollars. Overall, there was not much change to pricing.

We continue to see a little less availability for 2x6, however, consumers will find what they’re looking for with relative ease when looking through options from various mills and the wholesale and distribution community.

Flat pricing on 6” is offering reasonable value at these levels. It doesn’t appear that there will be too much more downside.

2x8 & 2x10

As we move to the wides, both 8” and 10” had a little bit of positivity with a few lengths on each printing up and 2x10 20s printing down somewhat.

It’s the same pattern that the wides are following as the rest of the market, stable overall with a little less availability for these dimensions. Some of the curtailments that we’ve talked about over the last several months have had the desired effect. As we continue to see less availability from mills, it’s helping to hold pricing intact.

We didn’t hear much about many price concessions from mills. If there was anything being done, it was happening quietly on the sidelines and only if mills were seeing any type of buildup in the wides, which we haven’t seen a lot of. Most mill lists remain relatively spotty.

2x12

There is not much new to add to the 2x12 story. We continue to see stability in the 12” marketplace overall. This doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.


Studs

The stud market saw modest interest build mid-week, with purchasers appearing much less apprehensive to cover more than just their prompt requirements heading into the May long weekend. Mills were able to consistently sell down available inventory on lists through the tail end of the week.

They may yet be enticed by a firm counter, but after again seeing steady interest extend their order files, most mills appear to be holding firm at these now established and firming levels.

Purchasers looking to step in and replenish inventory for the near term will still find decent availability in 2x4 trims varying into late May and further. We are seeing 2x6 trims again appear quite scarce with extended order files into early June where available. Prompt LTL options and mixed stud loads through distribution have maintained prompt fill-in options.

This week we can expect the ever-present tone of cautious demand. The market still appears underbought, and despite the season, remains very timid when it comes to having inventory on the ground. With prices stabilizing and stud demand improving, we anticipate interest to grow throughout the upcoming shortened week.


Treated Lumber

We talked a little bit about treated lumber over the last couple of weeks and entering the double May long weekend on the Canadian and U.S. sides of the border being an indication as to what the season will produce. It’s a little too early to tell how the Canadian side fared, so we will be watching things closely over the next 2 weeks.

So far, we still get the sense that treated is reasonably balanced. However, the true test will be as we get into the early part of June and get a sense of what kind of replenishment needs are shown at the contractor yard level. We’ll be keeping an eye on this closely.


MSR Lumber

Last week saw a modest increase in activity with regards to MSR sales. Truss manufacturers saw their order files start to get pushed out a little further and because of this, they looked to cover more inventory for upcoming orders. While there weren’t a lot of people looking to load up on inventory, there was certainly more purchasing done last week. For the most part, truss plants are reporting to be very busy quoting and orders are starting to come in quicker than weeks previous. Most are expecting this to continue well into late summer and some even well into the fall.

Items to keep an eye on continue to be 2x4/2x6 2100 as well as 2x8 MSR. We have seen a tightness in supply with regards to 2x8 MSR and with the lack of production, we don’t anticipate a significant change to that in the coming weeks/months.

We are seeing that 2x4 1650 is still an item where trading can be done, especially if you need prompt shipment and the mill has it on the ground (which most still do). Over the last week, we saw $15/m counters available on 2x4 1650 where mills remained firm on most other items.

Please keep an eye on your LTL MSR needs as availability has been getting tighter on some items. Again, we expect this to continue for the foreseeable future as we aren’t seeing a lot of truss manufacturers step out and cover anything further than what they have on order.

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Douglas Fir & Larch MSR

Activity in the DFL MSR market picked up early last week, spiking Wednesday but had slowed by the end of the week as immediate needs were covered by manufacturers. Discussions on both the production and build sides continue to see a market that is establishing a stronger footing.

Prices on print dipped -$5 on 2x4 & 2x6 2400, and is the grade most susceptible to counters on prompt loads. 2x4 & 2x6 1800 remained firm at established levels. Some accumulation of DFL 2x8 MSR at mills has been noted, perhaps as a result of the growing market share we are seeing from SYP in traditional DFL markets.

Manufacturers continue to see signs of positivity and growing order files but lack urgency in covering beyond immediate needs. Those who did step in looking for discounts at mills were often unable to find price reductions, leading some to continue to hold off.

Mills remained judicious on price concessions, hinting at a bottom and that mills are near or at a break-even point on the cost of production. As mills continue to carefully manage production volumes, a handful of Canadian mills are currently running DFL. It will be interesting to see what items are produced and their volumes against the current supply/demand balance. Mill order files remain prompt to 3 weeks out and It remains low risk to cover your 4-6 week needs.


Panel Products

Plywood

Plywood ended the week with a flat print after moderate mill activity and multiple standoffs on pricing ending with mills not willing to go much below asks.

Mills sold most volumes into Eastern Canada earlier in the week, with a few Western buys as purchasers sensed the bottom.

Takeaway in the west is still somewhat slow as dealers work to clear inventories purchased in March and April while simultaneously working through existing inventory builds.

OSB

Western producers in OSB were quick to pull off the market after a few days of selling in the south tightened up supply. Western Canadian sales continue to be sluggish as buyers move through on-ground inventories and pick up on contract offerings for any prompt needs.

Mill order files range from early to mid-June with many still holding off on quoting into the Canadian Western market.


On-Ground Inventory

We have inventories across the country to help fill your LTL and prompt lumber needs. Whether it’s studs, dimensional lumber, MSR, OSB or plywood, we have material on the ground and can fill your mixed truckload needs.

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