Stability and Availability Are Leading Us Through the Building Season

We’re about halfway through the month of May and we’re coming up to the back-to-back long weekends, first in Canada, then in the U.S. as we observe Victoria Day and Memorial Day respectively.

For many, the second part of May and the long weekends represent the kickoff to the summer season. There’s a certain psychological aspect behind it that always looms. As we continue to stumble through a frustrating marketplace, there are many who start to look toward the latter half of May with some optimism that we’ll start to see more of a buildup on the demand side with takeaway starting to ramp up.

The sentiment of uncertainty with respect to takeaway is not something new and it has certainly been a topic of conversation that’s come up for several months now. We’ve seen an attempt by the market to get going and start to elevate activity levels but the last couple of times, it has seemed to fizzle out a little quicker than perhaps some had hoped.

There was certainly a little bit better tone and activity last week, as indicated. We saw print showing some relative positivity across a wide spectrum of species and grades for the first time in quite a while as a result. This activity, however, was still cautious. We continue to see mills in a position to listen carefully on counters to try and bolster order files and still perhaps struggle with a slight oversupply situation.

Customers seem to continue to feel that there is ample opportunity to cover their needs. So although we have seen a bit of an uptick in purchasing, there are still many customers who believe they can continue to source what they need when they need it with relatively stiff competition for those orders, leading to a continuation of a range in pricing.

Until we see customers struggling to fulfill their needs, the market simply isn’t going to be able to sustain any upward momentum.

The forest fire news that sprung up over the weekend gave some people pause as to what things may look like rolling through this upcoming season. There is a lot going on between the frustration at the mills with pricing levels, the potential for further curtailments to try to stabilize the markets, the conversations at government levels with respect to the need to help stabilize the lumber industry, along with some of these other external factors like forest fires. All of that is leading some to feel that there is something simmering in the background that could lead to challenges in supply throughout the summer months.

We will certainly continue to watch closely. At this point, stability is the end-game for many in the lumber industry and the sentiment that we could see a real runup on pricing and lack of availability still feels like it would be hard-pressed to come to fruition.


Supply & Distribution Update

Last week’s stronger pace cooled as buyers had few immediate needs and were unwilling to step into firmer mill quotes. Pricing has been more resilient compared to previous weeks, but a soft market tone grew along with the lacklustre demand.

Buyers have stepped in to cover their immediate needs but are reluctant to speculate on the market. Supply remains strong and buyers are confident they can still get any needs covered each time they require. This is in line with the previous demand trends.

Sporadic business continues to be normal for many builders while hopes of some kind of consistency remain to be seen. Wildfires and mill curtailments are the hot topics in the current market but have yet to have effects on supply. Demand continues to fall behind supply.

Distribution has seen a reduction in activity compared to last week. All centers have been accommodating to requirements as they are currently operating with idle capacity due to soft market pricing. Buyers are utilizing mill direct truckload pricing to reduce the cost of lumber compared to shipping through distribution.

Lumber yards have been, and continue to run thin inventories to reduce carrying costs but are not concerned about holding a bit more if it reflects cost savings. There is still a lot of optimism that we will see a strong new building season.

Transportation availability remains abundant. For the first time in a long while, we may see our first disruption in transportation with a possible rail strike (News 2). Currently, the strike has been delayed due to possible safety implications. Until the board has issued a decision, the strike cannot start.

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News We Are Following

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Building Permits, March 2024

Statistics Canada

Building permits for March were on the decline month-over-month, falling 11.7% to $10.5 billion across the country with every sector falling.

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Canada Moves to Push Back Start Date for Possible Rail Strike

Reuters

As the Teamsters union vote came in overwhelmingly in favour of striking before the end of May, federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan advised he is having the Canada Industrial Relations Board look into whether the strike could have safety implications. The strike cannot proceed without the board’s decision. The Teamsters union said they would comply with an order from the board.

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B.C. Forest Industry Urges Government Action Amidst Mill Closures

CFI Staff

Linda Coady, president and CEO of the BC Council of Forest Industries (COFI), shares her concerns over the rising number of lumber, pulp, and paper mill closures and curtailments in B.C. She cites the urgent need for the government to step in and stabilize the situation.

“In the face of mounting mill closures, we urge the provincial government to expedite transition measures within the next 60 days,” stated Coady. “Current challenges in approval and permitting systems, coupled with changing land use policies, are precipitating dramatic declines in harvest levels.”

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Lumber Industry Wary of Coming Months After Record Wildfire Season in 2023

Stephen Cook - CBC News

After a wildfire season like never seen before in Alberta with 2.2 million hectares of burned forest last year, almost 10 times the five-year average, there are concerns over how this year will pan out. Dry conditions and drought have given the Alberta government and the lumber industry worry.

Read More

 

Fire Icon

Wildfire Heatmap for Western Canada

Keeping track of the wildfires through this summer season can be difficult and worrisome. But you can find the latest information with up-to-date maps to know where fires are raging in both B.C. and Alberta.

Alberta Wildfire Status Dashboard

B.C. Wildfire Service

 


Dimensional Lumber

Summary

The dimensional lumber market was on better footing last week than what we’ve seen in some time. There has been a slow and steady tightening in dimensional markets overall for the past several weeks, primarily led by stiff counters at mills with mills attempting to get more aggressive to try and move off prompt positions.

The demand level has seen an uptick but as we’ve mentioned before, it has not been enough to build much confidence.

Overall, print levels indicated stability to finish last week and begin this one. However, if you look at the market in general, we still feel that not much has changed in the very immediate term. There continues to be a lot of competition for orders in the dimensional marketplace and inventory levels in the field, as well as within distribution and wholesale, remain feeling a little heavier than many would like.

2x4

Print on 2x4 Western SPF was up on a few lengths, namely 10’, 12’, and 14’. This was enough to show 2x4 print up overall and if nothing else, it’s a psychological win for the market, leading some to feel that we have reached or are very close to a bottom.

It is hard to argue how we can see much more come out of the 4” market at this point in time. Again, we can look at some of the historical numbers over the last year, as well as the mill conversations about their ability to run at these levels.

Customers have been taking this opportunity to purchase and bolster some of their inventories. However, we still continue to see a cautious approach, even at these low levels. This gives us a sense that customers are not overly concerned about a quick and sudden runup in numbers, feeling like there will be availability when needed as we continue to work on this imbalance.

2x6

It was a flat print overall for 6” last week and we are taking that as a positive with respect to the market as a whole and the fact that we’ve perhaps found some stability for 2x6.

As we’ve been saying for some time, we haven’t seen the same volumes on lists for 6”. However, with respect to the overall market, it’s the same situation with 6x6 available and customers are able to source from a variety of options, leading many to feel that again, we are near a bottom but there is no general concern that we will see a pop in the immediate term.

2x8 & 2x10

The markets for 2x8 and 2x10 were relatively flat with a little bit of downside pressure on specific lengths. They followed suit with the general market with stability seeming to be a little more pronounced in the wides from most mills. Again, this is just because there appears to be a little more of a lack of supply.

We continue to see disinterest overall in takeaway. Perhaps the upcoming treated season may start to assist in this realm but we have not seen that as of yet.

2x12

We saw 2x12 print flat again and as has been the case for a number of weeks now, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in the 12” market and it appears to be balanced overall with not much product moving one way or another. Prices look to remain flat and stable through the spring and summer.


Studs

Stud demand continues to mirror more of the same stance from weeks prior. Mills continue to see modest interest and hold to sustained pricing with slim prompt offerings available. Mill order files remain extended well into late May with some lists already showing availability reaching into early June.

Purchasers looking to cover immediate needs will find tighter prompt availability both mill direct and through distribution channels as we continue to see heavy interest in both mixed and partial truck varieties.

As of late, availability in both 2x6 trims has appeared more intermittently on lists, but if you’re in the market for either, you should find availability in that 3-week or sooner window.

Most purchasers continue to present an overall uncertain and timid tone. However, steady week-over-week demand, firmed pricing and tightening supply are all precursors that we expect will have some purchasers stepping back in and looking to cover stud needs sooner, rather than later.


Treated Lumber

Again, referencing the upcoming long weekends, the treated market should start to see further increases in activity. There have been reports that a lot of the DIY sector has started picking up and the continued improvement in weather should get customers into the stores thinking about projects.

Unfortunately, we temper that excitement with the continual conversation that surrounds affordability and the challenges we are seeing with interest rate levels and the struggles with the general cost of living. Improvement on these fronts does not appear to be coming as quickly as many had hoped.

We will certainly get a better feel for what the treated season will look like as we round out May, and this will most likely give us a clear indication of what to expect for the balance of the season.


MSR Lumber

‘Steady’ seemed to be the word of the week last week. Mills continued with steady takeaway and we were able to slightly firm up on counters that they had previously been accepting over the past 2-3 weeks. On-ground material is still available at a discount, but material that is out 2-3 weeks, is being sold at very close to mill ask levels. Mills continue to feel that pricing will come to them over the next 2-4 weeks.

With that being said, mills are still heavily motivated to move material that they have on the ground. Both 2x4 and 2x6 2100 are items that remain in high demand and tally flexibility is proving to be tougher than other MSR items.

As orders start to come in, truss plants are starting to purchase more than months previous. LTL demand remains steady, but we are seeing more truss plants take advantage of full truckload options when available.

If the tally fits and you are going to use the material in the next 4-6 weeks, we do still feel that it is low risk to get that material covered. With news of mill closures and potential forest fires, there is still a risk that some material will not be available to purchase come summertime when the building season is in full swing.

Contact Us for Up-to-Date Pricing & Availability


Douglas Fir & Larch MSR

Activity in the DFL MSR market remained modest through last week but the general tone from end-users has grown in positivity and interest. Discussions on both the production and build sides have begun to see a market that is finding its footing and we appear to be nearing a turning point on supply and demand.

Mills became somewhat more judicious on price concessions, and have continued to carefully manage production volumes. Mill order files currently range from prompt to 3 weeks. Manufacturers with low inventories and increasing volumes of sold work added to the sense that there remains little to come out of current prices.

Those looking to capitalize on remaining perceptions of softness were often not able to find the discounts they had hoped for, leading some to continue to hold off.

Prices dipped slightly on 2x4 & 2x6 2400, but less so than in the previous weeks, while 2x4 & 2x6 1800 firmed. Limited availability and reasonable takeaway held 2x8 & 2x10 MSR near established trading levels. This, in addition to some growing needs to be filled in the field, leads to a sense that supply and demand are closer to finding a balance.

While wildfires are a serious concern to communities, producers and timberlands, the more immediate issue for the market may be transportation infrastructure and ensuring timely delivery of material.

There is little downside in covering your 4-6 week needs. We are, however, keeping an eye on availability. Curtailments and closures have taken a notable volume of fibre out of the market and that may become a consideration if takeaway picks up notably short-term.


Panel Products

Plywood

The plywood market finished off last week in a state of weakness. Buyers continue to fill in on LTL needs for the most part and low prices have not been enough to pull most off the fence as they are facing low demands.

Mill ask levels are within a few points of the bottom we saw earlier this year in February. Order files remain for prompt into the 1st week of June.

A rise of fires in the West this week has increased some conversations surrounding the future impact of logistics at panel mills but has yet to have any impacts on Western Supers, something we will continue to follow closely.

OSB

OSB mills reported some activity last week in the U.S. but Western Canadian buyers continue to approach with caution. They are moving through already purchased inventories and contracts, covering the short term.

Order files are into early June with many Western producers continuing to hold off on quoting this side of the border, and those that are, have turned down aggressive counters, citing that things are percolating south of the border and focused on building some inventory in advance of fires and mill downtime in summer and fall.


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