There’s been a lot of talk about China these days and understandably so. Recent stock market swings have been the most sensitive to trade talks and tariff calls between the US and China, and a tremendous amount of attention has been on these talks by the US hardwood industry as China has been a major consumer of our hardwood resource for some time, and its buying frenzy the first six months of last year gave a significant boost to our stumpage/log/lumber prices. With Chinese demand substantially throttled back, we’ve seen a significant drop in market prices for some of our most prized species – particularly black cherry and red oak.
Despite the constant emphasis (maybe overemphasis in some cases?) on the critical nature of trade with the Chinese, the fact that our resource is in many ways unique to the world gives us some comfort during a time when our major importer has significantly backed off on its consumption. As mentioned previously, our dual hardwood markets (international and domestic) have helped balance out the geographic ebbs and flows of hardwood demand over the years, and though domestic demand has always provided a solid footing, it’s interesting to see what the international interest is in our hardwood products outside the realm of the juggernaut China has become.
The top 15 hardwood importers of our US hardwoods have been providing between 93% and 95% of total US export demand for a number of years. Though there have been slight positional shifts from time to time, here are the countries in order of total dollar demand year-to-date as of May 31, 2019 (source: Hardwood Review Global, August 2019, Volume 30, Issue 3):
The Hardwood Review Global (HRG) publication also did a story about a number of lesser-known foreign importers (not within the top 15 importing countries 1) that have consistently and in most cases are increasingly purchasing US hardwood products. It may be good to acknowledge these markets, as they not only contribute to our sales of hardwood exports but will potentially become increasingly more substantial consumers of hardwoods over time. The hope is that if China doesn’t (or isn’t able to) return to its consumption levels we saw in early 2018, many of these smaller secondary export market countries will help supplement the shortfall. Besides, it’s better for any business not to depend on any one single customer and China was seemingly quickly becoming that customer.
Korea (#16 on the demand list) is on pace to have its strongest demand for our hardwoods in four years, as they have upped their importing of white oak, red oak and walnut particularly since 2017. As per the HRG, “total US hardwood lumber exports to Korea rose 13% in 2018 and were 4% stronger year-to-date through May.” Also, despite a slight economic slowdown since 2018, the Bank of Korea has cut interest rates “for the first time in three years, and additional cuts to stimulate economic growth are likely (Financial Times), potentially supporting even stronger demand for US hardwoods.”
Estonia (#18) set a record for US imports in 2014, dropped substantially for several consecutive years after that, but has since rebounded to where “total hardwood lumber exports to Estonia will be the second-strongest on record by year’s end.” Estonia is expected to expand its economy by approximately 3.3% this year (HRG).
Saudi Arabia (#19) saw an 118% demand increase year-to-date through May 2019, with red oak being its species of choice. The HRG reports red oak shipments are on pace to be at their highest levels ever over the last 14 years. Saudi Arabia’s economy is expected to expand from it’s current 1.9% pace to 3.0% in 2020 (HRG).
Turkey (#22) has come from out of nowhere since 2009, now “importing just slightly over 1.7MMBF of hardwood lumber, climbing 10 spots on the international demand chart of countries. Turkey has been importing white oak and white ash, and its construction, furniture, panel products and yacht-building sectors are continuing to grow, as per the HRG article. White oak shipments continue to increase, “up 15% year-to-date since May (HRG).”
Denmark (#26) is showing increasing interest in our hardwood resource, and HRG reports that Danish demand was at its highest point in a dozen years. Like other countries mentioned in this list, the Danes were in demand of our white oak, as it was its “most purchased US hardwood lumber species, with volumes up 36% year-to-date through May (HRG).” Indications are that 2019 demand will be at its strongest position in 13 years.
Honduras (#34), though exporting less than 300 MBF of lumber in 2018, has been consistently increasing its consumption of US hardwoods, particularly our white oak, maple, birch and red oak species. Indications are that the Honduras has doubled its 2018 demand in a year-to-date through May comparison.
Several other countries are worth mention as well for their substantial percentage gains in demand for US hardwoods lately. For instance, Morocco has increased its import volume of red oak more than 5 times since 2013, and “strong exports have continued (to Morocco) into 2019 (HRG).” Another country of note is Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia, who is now purchasing white oak and hickory at a steady pace. It seems Cambodia is processing a lot of its hickory imports and exporting back the finished product of strip flooring to the US (HRG).
Though these several export markets are relatively minor at this time, it’s hard to over-emphasize the value in expanding markets into as many places as we can in the world. It certainly reduces the risk by reducing the reliance on any one extremely large customer, and it’s great to see that the world is increasingly recognizing and starting to appreciate the quality, utility and beauty of our US hardwoods.
1 see list of top 15 countries in Table 1 above (not including the “Other” entry)
As always, if you have timber you may be interested in selling, and want a long-standing professional forestry firm representing your best interests in the process, please don’t hesitate to call any of our FORECON offices. Our foresters would be very happy to speak with you about the markets, and more importantly, your goals and objectives for your land.