The following discussion offers insights related to recent movements we’ve observed in hardwood sawtimber stumpage prices, using data from Pennsylvania University’s quarterly Timber Market Report. Their most recent Penn State report is dated “First Quarter, 2024” Additionally, we offer some perspective on monthly U.S. hardwood log export markets for a few the species most important to our region.

Red Oak: Average red oak stumpage prices dipped last quarter in all regions of the Commonwealth except the southwest, where the price rose sharply (Figure 1). It’s worth noting that reporting was very light for southwestern PA for the first quarter. In Figure 2, you’ll note the general downward trend in red oak log export volumes during the first quarter was accompanied by an increase in the average unit price for U.S. red oak log exports, a departure from the general trend we see in the Pennsylvania red oak stumpage data for the same period. Part of the explanation stems from the highly localized nature of timber stumpage markets as compared to the broad nature of nationwide log export trends. Another factor is that the U.S. log export data is aggregated and can’t tell us much about how grades, specs and the mix of logs that make up each set of monthly trade data. These two explanations apply to each of the four species groups we’ll discuss below.

White Oak: Average white oak stumpage prices dipped in two regions of the Commonwealth last quarter, and increased in the other two regions. Over the last several years, the general trend in white oak timber stumpage prices has been upward, on increased global demand for white oak logs and lumber for numerous uses. Keep in mind that any incremental demand for a given species, from any end-use, whether in log form or lumber form, can exert an outsized price reaction in the market. This is especially true when incremental supply for a given species is constrained by scarcity (geographic concentration) or by replacement/production nuances (slow average growth rates relative to other species, or long lumber drying time compared to other species). In Figure 4, you’ll see that the general upward trend in white oak log export volumes during the first quarter was accompanied by a decrease in the average unit price for U.S. white oak log exports. This is somewhat confounding on the surface. But, like we mentioned during our red oak comments, the monthly white oak log export data doesn’t allow us to see if specs, sorts, grade mix or average log diameter changed during the period.

Black Cherry: Average cherry stumpage prices dipped in all four regions of the Commonwealth last quarter (Figure 5). The general trend during the past few decades has been bearish for cherry prices on global changes in tastes and preferences for hardwood furnishings, and despite cherry’s global scarcity.

In Figure 6, you’ll see cherry log export volumes and unit prices have been trending somewhat upward during the past few months, albeit from a fairly low base. Cherry log export unit prices tend to be among the highest, compared to other species. Meanwhile, average monthly cherry log export volumes tend to be among the lowest when compared to other hardwood species.

Maple: Average hard maple (sugar maple) stumpage prices dipped slightly in three of the Commonwealth’s four regions last quarter (Figure 7). Penn State received no data from survey respondents for the southeastern region of Pennsylvania for the first quarter. Average soft maple (red maple) stumpage prices showed a similar trend (Figure 8). In Figure 9, you’ll see maple log export volumes and unit prices had been trending generally upward for several months until last month, when both figures turned lower. You’ll note the U.S. log export data lumps hard maple and soft maple together, simply reporting on “maple”. For this reason, monthly U.S. maple log export volumes tend to be among the highest of any species, generally surpassing red oak log exports. It’s also interesting to note that U.S. maple log exports tend to have one of the lowest average unit prices among all hardwood species, while hard maple tends to have one of the higher per-unit timber stumpage prices relative to other regional species. This likely relates to two factors: a) while much of the U.S. log export volume is bound for distant overseas destinations, a large portion of our monthly maple log exports go to Canada, and originate from the U.S. northeast and lake states, offering generally-shorter logistics; and b) the average log-size for the exported portion of our nation’s annual maple sawtimber harvest may be much smaller than the average size log we retain for domestic manufacturing. Said another way, the average maple log we export might be a smaller log than the average maple log we keep in-country. Maybe. Again, the export data is opaque regarding grade mix, log size and quality.

We appreciate the opportunity to share this analysis with our readers. We hope it adds value for you, your team and your family. Please keep in mind, the value of your unique stand of timber may differ widely from the figures shown in these multi-county Pennsylvania averages. Pricing for your specific property’s timber is subject to ever-changing, highly-localized markets. For local, customized expertise regarding your unique property, we encourage you to work with one of our seasoned foresters. We can help.

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