As of this writing, the US and China are still at a stalemate over continuing tariff issues, as trade negotiations have been put on hold while each side digs its heels in a little deeper on demands and expectations. Reports are that negotiations will continue at some point, but at this point, no one knows when that point will be.
A recent Hardwood Weekly Review (HWR May 17, 2019) indicates that US exports for the first quarter of 2019 were at their lowest point in over six (6) years, and shipments during the first quarter of this year were down 40% from the same period last year. The good news is that housing starts increased 6% in April (now at a pace of 1.24 million units/year) according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Commerce Department. Of course, housing starts directly influence our domestic market demand for hardwood, so that is a good sign for the industry.
Domestic ash demand is slowing a bit, but the Chinese are still buying it. Ash lumber has remained steady for most of this year until recently, when slight drops in value have occurred. Some industry folks have commented that this could be the last year for commercial ash sales because of the Emerald Ash Borer’s devasting presence. Cherry continues to experience lackluster interest, as kiln dried material has not seen great demand, especially for common-grade lumber. After a recent price leveling, cherry has taken another slight tick down in price.
Hard maple continues to be the steady performer, increasing slightly since the last report. Sales are reportedly remaining “OK” to “pretty good”, as per the HWR, and outside of normally-expected fluctuations that occur in the summer months, nothing indicates this demand will be changing in the near-term. Soft maple is reportedly softening a little, but published reports show a very steady level for this species as it is “still moving well” according to some managers. Red oak continues to tail off, largely due to the decline in Chinese purchases of this species. Some mills are saying that the margins between lumber and stumpage are too narrow to continue paying current prices.
The two graphs that follow (Lumber Prices by Species and the Index of Selected Species Lumber Prices) demonstrate the swings we are seeing in the hardwood markets that are continuing through this year so far. The top graph will show individual species trends, and the lower graph show the composite index of lumber prices for all 5 species in equal proportion.
Despite the fluctuating marketplace for hardwoods now, landowners can still benefit from sound, professional advice from foresters who know the local markets. Please call any of our foresters if you are interested in selling your timber – you will be glad that you did!