Quiet Finish to 2023 for the Lumber Market With Expectations of a Surge in Demand in the New Year
This will be our final newsletter of 2023 and we would just like to thank everyone who has participated and stuck with us to hear what we’ve had to say throughout the last 12 months. We hope there has been some value added to your daily and weekly business endeavours. We hope you continue following us in 2024!
We will say it’s certainly a quiet week to finish the year. This was not unexpected whatsoever. All of December has really been very quiet overall from a takeaway standpoint. We get the sense that from the mill perspective, as well as the consumer, it’s a bit expected and no one is trying to fight it.
Mills have continued to hold pricing relatively flat and firm on items out longer than 2-3 weeks. We’ve seen print indicating this now for several weeks with very flat numbers. The lack of takeaway from consumers, which has been apparent, has not really affected anything, as we said earlier, this was expected. Mills are fine with the quiet pace, citing scheduled downtime and seasonal curtailments. The consumer base doesn’t have much takeaway to speak of so purchasing decisions are being pushed into the new year. Any needs that were outstanding have been met some time ago.
It looks like we’re going to finish 2023 on a very muted tone leading to a lot of questions about 2024. Here is where there is a lot of conversation happening. Under the surface, there are some bubbling feelings that we may see a little bit more of an uptick in demand in takeaway that many expect once we turn the calendar page.
Mills seem to be banking on this fact with their firm pricing, and the lacklustre takeaway from consumers that we’ve seen for the better part of 4-6 weeks now, could lead to a bit of a rush to cover some immediate needs in the new year.
Based on the limited supply that we’ve seen overall for quite some time now, if there is a moderate uptick in takeaway at any point in January, it certainly could cause a tightening of supply very quickly. In this case, we could absolutely see an upward surge in pricing.
The futures market right now is certainly showing some potential trends in this scenario, however, there are other factors at play. Overall, our comments remain the same as always, focus on what’s best for your business and try to shut out some of the noise in the background because there is so much that continues to be pushed out with respect to varying opinions about what the market is going to do.
Supply & Distribution Update
The slow but steady pace of recent weeks persisted across nearly all items. Trading has found success in filling buyers' immediate needs. Tally and time of shipment played an outsized role in securing orders. However, most of December and early January needs had been covered in previous weeks. Some items are still more challenging to source than others, but the overall lumber supply in the market continues to gradually improve.
Positive economic news, including mortgage rates falling below 7%, increased optimism among traders that demand from the housing sector could increase sooner than later. Buyers continue to contemplate when to issue purchase orders with the uncertainty in pricing over the next 2-3 weeks.
Distribution continues to see activity as customers continue fulfilling their immediate needs. The holiday season will cause disruptions in distribution as the market will lose two full days of shipping. Customers are well bought and have been well prepared for this downtime shown by many distribution yards due to Christmas and Boxing Day.
Lumber pricing has remained relatively flat over the past couple of weeks, and mills continue to show firmness on their listed pricing. This has shown the importance and value that distribution brings to the lumber market as buyers continue to use their services during uncertain market trending times.
The transportation industry continues to offer impeccable service. The service supply continues to grossly outweigh the demand. Favourable transport conditions also contribute to the immaculate service being offered within the industry.
As 2023 comes to a close, it is safe to say that this year has proven to be the year with the most available transport services and ease of doing business due to availability. Those who are service users have been extremely happy with shortened lead times. Those who are providers continue to work within a struggling industry striving to keep their wheels turning.
News We Are Following
Canada’s Forest Sector Shares Net-Zero Roadmap at COP 28Canadian Forest Industries Staff
COP 28 in Dubai has heard from Canada about its plans to become net-zero through climate-smart forestry, responsible forest management, and the use of carbon-storing wood products. It comes with an effort to address worsening natural disturbances, pest outbreaks, and wildland fires.
“For decades, Canada’s forest sector and its workers have committed to sustainable forest management practices and a focus on environmental stewardship – playing a proactive role in global dialogue and adhering to national and international emissions reporting standards that quantify forestry-related climate and carbon impacts,” said FPAC president and CEO Derek Nighbor.
The 'Great Adjustment': Canadians to Adapt to New Reality as Housing Market Returns to Near-Normal in 2024Royal LePage Real Estate Services - Newswire
Modest rate cuts are generally expected for the Canadian economy in the second half of 2024. However, home prices are still expected to rise next year fueled by supply shortages and affordability issues despite rates coming down.
"Looking ahead, we see 2024 as an important tipping point for the national economy as the majority of Canadians acknowledge that the ultra-low interest rate era is dead and gone," said Phil Soper, President and CEO, Royal LePage. "We believe that the 'great adjustment' to tolerable, mid-single-digit borrowing costs will have a firm grip on our collective consciousness after only modest rate cuts by the Bank of Canada."
Canadian Housing Starts Dive as Higher Rates BiteReuters
Higher interest rates in Canada are hitting the housing market as housing starts took a 22% plunge in November from the previous month. "The notable drop in the rate of housing starts in November, particularly in the multi-unit space, should not come as a major surprise and reflects tighter economic conditions impacting construction timelines," CMHC's deputy chief economist Kevin Hughes said in a statement.
"As the more difficult borrowing conditions and labour shortages now seem to be showing in the starts numbers, we can expect to see continued slower starts rates in the coming months," Hughes said.
The Fed Projects Lower Rates in 2024Robert Dietz - NAHB
With the US Federal Reserve holding rates at their latest FOMC meeting last week, their tone suggests that the growth of economic activity has slowed, as has inflation, although it remains elevated. This has given breath to possible rate cuts coming in 2024 which has brought down mortgage rates. Conditions could be set for a housing market that picks up steam as we head toward those rate cuts south of the border.
The dimensional market was flat and stable yet again last week. We saw a flat print across the board on all widths and this has been the case specifically in SPF for a number of weeks now.
Again, there really isn’t an urgency from anyone in the market to do much throughout December. That trend has continued and unless something very surprising happens next week, it will be more of the same.
We do anticipate a quiet time to finish off our current week before the Christmas holidays and the shortened week after that should also remain quiet with a very large number of mills and customers taking extended time off to close out the year.
We continue to see 2x4 flat and sit in a narrow range from mills that do have product to offer. We haven’t seen a lot of price concessions, although there were some reports of one-off loads sold on a case-by-case basis, more so from the wholesale and distribution level, those that perhaps have some inventory purchased at lower prices, or those looking to move off an inventory position in an otherwise quiet market.
Overall demand for 4” has been low to finish off the year. There have been sales but they have just been on a case-by-case basis as people fill short-term needs and step back out to wait and watch.
In 2x6 it has been a continuation of print prices languishing. However, there doesn’t seem to be a tremendous amount of material in the marketplace or showing on lists.
What we have seen is certainly a bit of a gap between print pricing and where mills that do have 6” material are being priced. Those that do have an immediate need for 6” are paying a premium over print for the most part, save for covering needs from larger mills that are tied heavily to print pricing. However, a number of those mills aren’t really showing much volume.
The 2x6 market continues to underperform from a historical standpoint, so we feel that there could be some upside potential once we do see some buildup in demand.
2x8 & 2x10
Also flat on print were 2x8 and 2x10 and we’re seeing modest amounts showing up on lists. Again, there is no sense of urgency from mills to move anything at a discount. If the pricing makes sense and they have material for relatively prompt shipment, they’re content to continue moving it. However, we don’t see any downside pressure on 8” and 10” in the immediate term due to the time of year.
There hasn’t been much happening for 2x12 to follow the rest of the market for some time now. We don’t see a tremendous amount on lists and it seems to ebb and flow from an availability standpoint. However, numbers continue to remain flat and stable overall.
The stud market continues to see relatively quiet interest over the last week, and it’s expected to maintain a similar tone heading into the holidays.
Downward pressure has remained minimal for the most part, but mills have been entertaining modest offers on most prompt material while continuing to rebuff more aggressive bids. Mill availability remains prompt to 2 weeks or sooner on the more readily available 2x4 8’ and 2x6 9’ trims, while 2x4 9’ have remained surprisingly scarce in the near term, with most availability into the first week of 2024.
Purchasers remain quite firmly on the fence, apprehensive to cover much more than their immediate needs and looking into the New Year for any decisive purchases. Purchasers are again leaning heaviest into mixed load offerings and prompt distribution supply, where available. As this week progresses we can expect to see continued pressure for just-in-time supply, especially if needs arise next week.
The perception of continued downward pressure has pushed hesitant buyers firmly to the sidelines, while mill lists continue to suggest the stud market remains more balanced than demand would let on. It’s a fickle tug-of-war we’ve seen for weeks now and can expect yet another flat week or two to end the year before we can expect the market to gain any type of traction.
There’s not much to report with respect to the treated market. Most programs have been put to bed for the 2024 season so now it will be a function of the mills starting to ship out in the new year, moving product into the hands of the retail and contractor yards.
Pricing looks to remain flat and stable as we begin the treated season. It’s obviously very early to tell, but at this point, it feels like 2024 treated should behave much like 2023.
There is not a great deal to add with regard to MSR sales/purchases over the last week. There are still some prompt needs, but most are waiting to assess order files and inventory needs until the new year.
Mill production remains steady and desirable tallies are still moving quite quickly. Discounts aren’t overly plentiful as mills are still confident that demand will increase in January and they should be able to achieve better returns than they currently are.
With truss plants indicating that they are continuing to quote and get orders, we tend to agree with the thought that the risk is quite low to purchase material for inventory right now. With that being said, we won’t be loading up our inventories but we will be purchasing ‘high traffic items’ so we can cover the prompt needs that continue to come in every week.
Our advice continues to be to look after your needs until mid-January. If there are items that are tougher to find that you will need before the end of January, the risk is still low to get that material covered sooner rather than later.
Douglas Fir & Larch MSR
The DFL MSR market saw pockets of activity through the preceding week but the general tone remained fairly quiet. Activity continued to be focused on covering late-season needs for ongoing work and on balancing out inventories in preparation for the new year. However, some proactive volume buys for early ’24 have been seen.
Pricing on DFL MSR continues to be flat overall with the exception of 2x4 1800 which saw a -$15 dip on print. Little material accumulation on mill lists was seen throughout the week. Availability in 16’ through 20’ lengths has continued to improve. Mill order files currently range from prompt to three weeks out.
Mills have been generally content to hold close to current ask prices on loads for early January shipment with the anticipation that there will be an uptick in market activity in the coming weeks. We do not anticipate prices to soften for the remainder of the year.
This is a good moment to address your upcoming needs through January and to avoid potential challenges in supply, shipment delays, and price increases as the market does seem primed for increased activity post-Christmas. Downside risk looks to remain low into ‘24.
Plywood has seen little activity outside of less than truckload sales in the last few weeks. Contracts are moving on truckloads but the volumes do not support any additional cash buying at this time, as buyers take a very cautious approach.
Yards maintain thin inventories and are replenishing only what is needed for prompt. They remain speculative on price erosion in January despite pushback from mills on production and order files, which are running early- to mid-January.
OSB prices are flat for the first time in several weeks. That said, cash prices continue to outpace random lengths print for shipments mid-late January. Many buyers have purchased modest amounts to cover late January where they could but most mills in the west continue to have limited supply for the cash market.
Inventories in the field vary but most are running thin. Conversations are mixed with many speculating there will be more cash offerings in January and others worried they may not have enough to cover with concerns about continued supply constraints.
Please keep in mind that we have well-priced weekly lumber, plywood and OSB contracts. We also have fully stocked inventories with LTL options to cover any necessary requirements.
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